China is a huge problem with fake fossils. Also, due to the law that no fossils may leave the country (you can get the death penalty for attempting this!), many of the fossils you see out of China are FAKES, as it is legal to export them as they are not fossils. The Chinese find it much safer and simpler just to make them. But not all of the fossils out of China are fakes. Some genuine fossils were exported out of China before the law came to action. Sometimes people also get permits to export them.
The abundance and diversity of fake Chinese fossils that are sold every year goes on forever. Nowadays, Chinese dealers will make anything false to offer something new that has not been seen before to the infested open market.
Every year, thousands of people buy these fossils, not knowing they are fakes. Sadly, some fakes reach the prices of what the genuine fossil would cost. Even some scientists have been caught in the trap to the astonishing masonry skills. In
Types of fake Chinese fossils
Some of the main types of fossils you should look out for as being fakes are listed below.
You can almost only trust the specimen once you have seen the CAT scan.
Any Chinese fossil skeleton stuck in matrix or out of matrix, should be highly expected to be a fake. Not only them but matrix with two or more fossils (like frogs) on should never be bought if coming from China. It is very unnatural to be found in this position.
How they make the fossils
The first way is by smashing genuine fossil bones and gluing them to produce fossil skeletons and skulls that look authentic with an accurate colour.
The second way they make fake fossils is by using modern bones and teeth and planting them into plaster to make a fake skeleton compound on a piece of matrix.
They also cast fossils and sculpt them onto slabs of rock before painting them. They even break and repair the rocks to make them look authentic, and sometimes fill it with white sediment to make it look like there are calcite veins.
Osteohilus, previously known as Jianghanichthys are commonly for sale. The specimens are apparently formed from quashed mudstone and the fish has been squashed so is not just an impression. I would avoid buying any specimens on a perfect rectangle as these are practically all forged. Request a photo from a side-on view if you cannot see the specimen in the flesh; if the backbone is an impression in the rock then it is most likely a fake made by pressing a cast into the mould before it has set, if the backbone is 3D and protruding from the matrix there is a better chance of being a real specimen. The layered matrix should not have any gaps in it so if there is any “air space” then do not purchase as it has been made by adding layers together and gluing them. Personally if I were you I would avoid them altogether.
Fake Keichousaur fossils
For more than 20 years, keichousaur fossils have been faked. Due to the great magnitude of fake specimens, many collectors have become determined to add a genuine one to their collection. A quick search on an online auction site such as ebay will reveal many specimens for sale for only a few hundred pounds. The vast majority of these are unlikely to be genuine - a complete marine reptile as such would honestly fetch much higher sums on the market.
The most common type of fake keichousaur is where a partial specimen has been reset in a new matrix slab and missing elements carved out from this and the whole specimen then over-painted. Complete fakes are rare compared to the number of keichousaurs on the market, but despite that they are regularly found at fairs and auctions.
Below is an example of a Keichousaurus which looked dubious upon acquisition. As a result, acetone was applied to the specimen to remove any paint which is commonly applied to hide badly prepared bones and make carved sections appear like bone. As a result, the head, neck, limb digits and tail lost their entire colouration providing conclusive evidence that they were carved from the matrix to form a relief.
Around the trunk, a semi-translucent white line was uncovered; an adhesive which was used to bond what may well be genuine material to the surrounding matrix. This could suggest that the specimen is a composite made up of a genuine torso and implanted into the square block in order to create a complete specimen. Much of the trunk region dimmed in colour once the acetone was applied meaning it too was painted over in order to hide any preparation mistakes or to prevent a colour difference in the genuine bone and the forged sections. Some of the regions in the pectoral and pelvic girdles do show poorly-prepared bone in matrix which had been painted over in the first photo but revealed in the second, and based on this, the trunk region appears to have began as a genuine partial specimen.
How they make fake Keichousaurs
The most common method of producing these specimens are using a partial specimen and resetting it in a new matrix slab and missing elements then carved out from the matrix slab. The whole specimen is then painted over with a black (usually acrylic) paint. The specimen above was made through this technique and most keichousaurs on the market are similar.
A second, less common way the Chinese replicate them is by casting a copy from a mould of a genuine specimen. The replicas are then cracked and glued back together to make it seem like a real one. This is because the genuine specimens tend to be mended due to the extraction methods. During these repairs, they are often stuck back together with white sediment adhesive so it has white veins running across them - this replicates the calcite veins that run through the rock the genuine specimens come from.
Another way of making these is achieved by building a supple rubber mould of an authentic skeleton, and pouring in epoxy putty (putty that is used for models and small sculptures). This is then pressed over an authentic rock block to rebuild a skeleton which is 3D, like most authentic specimens. Then the epoxy putty is carved with a knife to look like a Keichousaur. It is then stained black or a dark gray to look like authentic bones. They then put cuts and scratches around the specimen around the fake bones to make it look like it has been prepared. If you look carefully you will find you cannot see any bone structure, and air bubbles if you look closely.
Spotting Fake Specimens
In order to spot fakes, you will have to look carefully at the bones - a photograph is rarely enough to identify a fake specimen. If the bones are fake they will not have any detail - real bones have lots of texture. The bones will also have a hand painted look which genuine bones should not have. Carved vertebrae will not look like normal vertebrae but will look like a lump with some straightforward ridges in it. There will also be no even spaces in-between each vertebra like real spinal cords has. The bones don't have to be perfect on genuine specimens; often poor preparation is an explanation for this. The bulk of specimens are prepared using a rotary grinding tool - not a recommended practice by skilled preparers as these are very inaccurate tools and grind away the bone just as easily as the rock surrounding them. Keichousaurs are not easily acid prepared and dealers often use these terms to make it seem like they are selling a decent specimen.