Presentation on theme: "Fossil Fraud: Products of Trickery and Sensationalism."— Presentation transcript:
Fossil Fraud: Products of Trickery and Sensationalism
Early Interpretations of Fossils Until the last century, interpretations of fossil remains were even more speculative than today. Because many dinosaurs and other extinct animals were known only from fragmental material, many reconstructions were way off ! For example, here are two representations of the dinosaur Iguanodon. Modern Reconstruction Early Reconstruction (early 1800s)
Early Frauds As members of the general public were both enamored by the remains of ancient animals and blissfully ignorant of the details of vertebrate anatomy, it was easy to mislead a great many people. A number of individuals made a good living by displaying impressive- looking, but bogus fossil skeletons. This illustration drawn in 1845 accompanied Albert Koch's description of a "gigantic fossil reptile" 114 feet long. In truth, Koch pieced together the bones of five fossil whales, then showed the specimen in the U.S. and in England. The hoax was exposed on both sides of the Atlantic.
Blatant Deseption That People Still Fall For In the 1930s, American Museum paleontologist Roland T. Bird paid a visit to the Paluxy River limestone beds near Glen Rose, Texas, to see a spectacular dinosaur trackway. Bird's visit came during the Depression, and some locals decided to sell tracks from the region in hopes of making some much needed cash. They quickly figured out that it was easier to carve footprints directly into the rock. The Paluxy footprints are still cited by creationists as “proof” that humans lived alongside dinosaurs. Paluxy River “human footprints”
The Story of Piltdown Man One of the most famous cases of fossil fraud is that of Piltdown Man. Piltdown Man was so-named after fossil remains of an apparently primitive form of a hominid were brought to the attention to scientists by amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson. Charles Dawson
Dawson claimed that workmen at a the gravel pit near the village of Piltdown, U.K., had given him a piece of human skull in 1908. Dawson brought these bones to the attention of Arthur Woodward of the British Museum. Dawson then undertook his own dig at the gravel pit site The Gravels of Piltdown
In 1912, digging alongside Woodward, Dawson found found more skull fragments and a fragment of a peculiar-looking jawbone. Due to their close proximity to one another the jaw and skull fragments were interpreted to have been derived from the same skull. Outside view of jaw Skull fragments Dawson and Woodward Additional Material
Significance of Timing The discovery of Piltdown Man was very timely It came 50 years after Darwin published On the Origin of Species, just when many people were beginning to think about our ancestors and question what kind of creature might have bridged the gap between apes and us. At the time of the discovery, the only evidence we had of early humans was the skull cap of Java Man (Homo erectus), thought to have lived 700,000 years ago, and the jaw of Heidelberg Man (archaic Homo sapiens), estimated to have lived about 500,000 years ago. Jaw of Heidelberg Man Jaw of modern human Skull cap of Java Man
The find made the two men very excited because the jaw was very ape-like and the skull fragments were definitely of human origin. The apparent combination of characteristics that were, on one hand, distinctly human, and on the other, ape-like, seemed to suggest that the former owner of these skeletal elements was the “missing link” that had been sought for so long. Skull reconstruction showing positions of fragments found Human, Ape, or Both ?
Arthur Woodward’s reconstruction of Piltdown Man skull In December, 1912, Woodward presented a reconstruction of the skull at a meeting of the Geological Society of London, where he argued its primitive origins. He concluded that the remains came from a human who had probably lived about 500,000 years ago during the early part of the Pleistocene epoch. A few doubters felt that the jaw was too “apish,” to have been derived from the otherwise human-like skull Woodward’s supporters eventually won the debate, and the hominid species entered the scientific literature as Eoanthropus dawson (Dawson’s dawn man). Acceptance by Scientific Community
Excitement continued to grow as additional material surfaced at a site about 2 miles from that of the original discovery. This additional material included: 1.A “bone tool.” 2.Fossil bones and teeth of animal species known to have existed during the Pleistocene. Tooth of Stegadon (an extinct elephant) Tooth of extinct beaver Additional “Evidence” Piece of elephant femur (shaped like a cricket bat, strangely enough)
All evidence suggested that the Piltdown Man was the earliest- known human from Western Europe. By the time new finds of ancient hominids were being uncovered in Africa by Raymond Dart, it became apparent that the Piltdown remains did not match were radically unlike anything else found in the fossil record. Yet for over three decades, Piltdown Man was accepted as an authentic extinct hominid. Artist’s reconstruction of Piltdown Man Suspicion Australopithecus africanus, Discovered by Raymond Dart in 1924 in South Africa.
In 1953 a team of three scientists (Sir Wilfrid Le Gros Clark, Kenneth Oakley and Joseph Weiner) at the British Museum conducted a series of rigorous analyses on the remains. The skull fragments turned out to have been of Medieval age. The jawbone was also determined to have been very recent in age. Further study of the bone indicated that the jaw fragment been artificially stained with potassium dichromate to make it look old. Real human cranial fragments Stained jaw fragment The Fraud Exposed
Further, it became apparent that the jawbone was from an orangutan. The teeth had been filed down (as indicated by unusual “wear pattern” concentrated on the outside edge of the tooth). Clearly, the “artifacts” had been planted at the Piltdown site, but perpetrators obviously had a good knowledge of Pleistocene geology and Pleistocene-age mammals (this was no amateur job). Piltdown jaw Orangutan jaw
Even now, the perpetrator is unknown, but Dawson remains the primary suspect (it was found that he had trafficked in other fake artifacts). Martin Hinton, a British Museum employee has also been implicated since a boxful of artificially stained bones (contained in a forgotten trunk) were linked to him in 1975. Besides Dawson, suspects include English anatomist Sir Arthur Keith and British Museum employee Martin Hinton. Some speculation has even fingered Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame (he also wrote The Lost World). Stained bones found in Hinton’s forgotten trunk (found in a loft within the British Museum) Who Did It ?
The Archaeoraptor fiasco: Rise and Fall of the “Piltdown Turkey”
A single specimen of an unusual vertebrate animal christened Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, captured the world’s attention in November, 1999, when the National Geographic Magazine published an article about what they thought was an amazing fossil discovery. With its mix of dinosaur and bird-like features, many palaeontologists believed that Archaeoraptor captured the moment in evolution when dinosaurs were experimenting with flight. It reportedly came from a site in China's Liaoning Province, already famous for yielding exceptionally well-preserved specimens of birds and feathered dinosaurs. (specimen viewed under visible light) (specimen viewed under UV light) Report of an Exciting Discovery
Stephen Czerkas, owner of the Dinosaur Museum in Monticello, Utah, purchased it for $80,000 at the 1998 Tucson gem show, the largest show of its kind in the world. Mindful of the possible significance of the fossil, he then contacted the National Geographic Society. The society made a deal to study it and eventually return it to China. Tucson Show
The Dino-bird Controversy: Some Background To fully appreciate the significance of the Archaeoraptor find, we should briefly look at a recent revolution in dinosaur paleontology – the notion that birds directly descended from dinosaurs. Ever since the discovery of fossils of the primitive bird Archaeopteryx in the mid- to late-1800s, a direct evolutionary relationship between dinosaurs has been accepted by most paleontologists. Archaeopteryx (found in limestones of Jurassic age) shares features of both dinosaurs and bird. But some scientists believe that birds spilt much earlier from a more primitive reptilian lineage, and that the similarities between Archaeopteryx and dinosaurs are due to evolutionary convergence.
Feathered Dinosaurs In the late 1990s, remarkably well preserved skeletons of small meat- eating began to be found in Liaoning Province, China. Significantly, these dinosaurs looked like small, but fairly typical- looking meat-eating dinosaurs of the Cretaceous Period. But these dinosaurs were found with feathers (not only down, but also plumage) ! Caudipteryx
Significance of Feathers The presence of feathers in these dinosaurs is significant in that it suggests that feathers first evolved in dinosaurs and that birds then evolved from dinosaurs. So… these fossils suggest that the original use of feathers was for insulation and display. But still, the features preserved in these specimens are closer to dinosaur than to bird. So paleontologists were (and still are) holding their breath for a more bird-like form. Sinosauropteryx
Christopher Sloan, the author of the National Geographic article wrote: “Its long arms and small body scream BIRD” “Its long, stiff tail… screams “DINOSAUR” Sensationalism and the Media
Initial Suspicions Shortly after National Geographic’s report of the discovery of the Archaeoraptor specimen, Xu Xing, a Chinese scientist who had initially helped to identify the fossil announced that he had found the counterpart slab of Archaeoraptor’s tail. Unfortunately, the slab did prove to be the exact mirror-image of the tail, but the body associated with the tail was that of a dinosaur. This raised suspicion that the Archaeoraptor specimen was forged. Adding to the suspicion were a number of disquieting facts: 1.The specimen was smuggled out of China into the world’s largest gem and mineral show. 2.Fossil-selling is big business, particularly when it comes to unusual specimens from famous fossil localities. The Archaeoraptor specimen sold for $80,000 on the commercial market. 3.The specimen was not collected by a professional paleontologist (it was purchased after being smuggled from China), raising the possibility of being “manipulated” in some way.
Computed Tomography (CT), a technique commonly used in medical examination, was used to investigate the authenticity of the specimen. Although the data analysis involved in CT is very complex, the actual principle of CT is quite simple. We will first look at how conventional X-radiography works. Brain “slices” imaged via CT scanning technology Computed Tomography
Conventional X-radiographs are 2- dimensional images that basically record the degree to which X-rays can pass through tissues of various densities. The X-radiographs that most people are accustomed to seeing are actually film negatives. In other words, tissues through which X-rays easily pass through (least dense material) show up as white areas on the X-radiograph, whereas those areas that are X-ray opaque show up as dark areas on the X- radiograph. Intermediate densities are represented by various shades of grey. Conventional X-radiographs
CT Images Computed Tomography (CT) imaging combines the use of a digital computer together with a rotating x-ray device to create detailed cross sectional images or "slices" of a three-dimensional body. This method allows features of interest to be viewed in 3-D when data from all the slices are combined.
The resulting data permitted the construction of CT images perpendicular to the fossil-bearing face of the slab. Easily distinguished in the specimen were the pieces of solid limestone, the mortar used to hold the slab pieces together, and bones of the Archaeoraptor skeleton and backing slab of solid limestone. Also apparent were small-scale heterogeneities such as air bubbles and larger air spaces, and subtle density differences among some of the limestone pieces. The data acquired from a 360 o scan was processed to produce vertical “slices” that revealed the internal structure of the slab.
It was ultimately revealed that the skeleton was a composite of at least two different specimens. These pieces lie in natural position and contain the naturally associated skeleton of a bird. These pieces are secondarily added dinosaur bone-bearing limestone pieces and shims (filler pieces)
Forgery Sequence Stage 1: Reassembly of original bird specimen before it was combined with additional pieces.
Stage 3: Placement of the "right" and "left" tibia/fibula. Note: the "right" and "left" tibia/fibula appear to be parts of a slab and counterslab from a single element.
Stage 4: Placement of the feet/ankles Like the tibia and fibula, the “left” and “right” foot/ankle represent a slab and counterslab of the same foot/ankle. These pieces appear to have been derived from a second fossil bird specimen.
Stage 5: Placement of pieces of the tail. The entire tail is from a single skeleton of a small meat-eating dinosaur.
Stage 6: Insertion of shims (filler pieces) that offer structural support and make the slab more presentable for sale
Dr Timothy Rowe of the University of Texas at Austin rightly stated “I would think that insurance companies, auction houses, customs agents, the US Internal Revenue Service, private collectors of fossils, and others with financial stakes in objects like fossils will be concerned and interested in having forensic verification of any specimens that they buy/sell or insure.” New forensic techniques, such as those carried out by the Texas team, are increasingly being used to check the authenticity of fossils The Main Advantage: A Non-Destructive Approach to Determining Authenticity of Fossil
It is has been fairly confidently established that Archaeoraptor is basically made of two fossils: The Schizophrenic Fossil
The main part of the skeleton belongs to a true bird. The bird was later namedYanornis Yanornis The Front End
The tail belongs to the a feathered dinosaur, to be later called Microraptor. The Back End
Fakes are Not Easy to Spot ! Give it a try- real or fake ? Fossil trilobites