At first glance many specimens are hard to identify between real or fake. Sellers wrap up fakes in the same way as they do the genuine trilobites and some shops even mix the real and fake ones together meaning each trilobite must be carefully inspected. The trilobite industry can produce large sums of money in Morocco and has developed increasingly over the last few years. It is understandable why trilobites are commonly faked; it takes about 5 hours to produce a fake specimen, while preparing a real trilobite to a good standard will take around 100 hours. Workshops in Morocco have been set up to individually produce a particular type of trilobite and then all being sold together. This way they can be made to seem as genuine as possible because the forgers can specialise on the details more. This is becoming alarming as more people are acquiring fake specimens for large sums of money for what is just a replica.
The Calymenidae Trilobites
Trilobites from the Calymenidae family are found in abundance in northern Africa so they are not worth faking exactly. However, lots of trilobites, like Calymene, are broken when found or during extraction. A common technique in shops is to glue random parts to others with an intention to make them seem compete so they can be sold. As always in business, time is money, so dealers want to get through as many as they can as quickly as possible resulting in poor, disproportional trilobites. Cephalons too large for the thorax are glued on resulting in atomically incorrect bugs. Occasionally the heads or tails are glued together incorrect and are commonly found sold in bulk packages at a cheap price. If the correct parts are not available a composite section is made from a putty or plaster to make the trilobite seem complete.
Signs of Fake Moroccan Trilobites
When the fakes are made with plaster or resin, there are normally air bubbles dotted all over the matrix and specimen. If you see little holes on the trilobite, you can be pretty sure that you are looking at a fake specimen. The mini craters are usually half a millimetre in diameter and come about from when bubbles burst at the time of the solidification stage of the plaster or resin.
Lack of cracks in the trilobite usually means it is fake. The rocks in Morocco are extremely hard, so it is almost impossible to get out a trilobite without breaking it. If you cannot see any small crack running through the trilobite or matrix you can assume it is a fake. These cracks are features of genuine trilobites. The cracks don’t have to be breakages from extraction; the small cracks can run across the exoskeleton - note the cracks on the genuine trilobite two images below (close up).
Colour differences on the matrix (e.g. the top half of the matrix being a light grey, the bottom half being a light brown) mean that it is a fake. If there are differences in colour and loads of preparation marks on the exterior matrix (lots of preparation marks can hide the small holes), then the trilobite is probably fake, and it is mounted on some real matrix, to make it look more authentic.
Trilobites have extremely detailed textures, just like modern day woodlice. If you look carefully at the specimen, you can normally see the lenses of the eyes if it has eyes that is. But fakes will have very little, if not any detail at all. The specimen below is a genuine trilobite - note the detailed surface.
The outer shell of the trilobite or exoskeleton of authentic trilobites is extremely hard. While fake trilobites are much softer as they are made with resin or plaster. To test to see how hard it is, you can check it with your teeth. Gently tap it on your tooth. If it feels like a plastic toy, then it is forged, if it is hard like stone it is most likely genuine. A metal blade of a knife could easily remove layers of a fake trilobite but this method is more destructive and could still scratch genuine specimens so should be avoided.
When you see a plate with many specimens of trilobites on, then there is a good chance it is a fake, as these “large pieces” are not found very often. This does not mean that you cannot find any real death assemblages as they do come up every so often, but it is not very natural to get several different species living together. You should also check to see if all the different trilobites lived in the same time era, as sometimes they make these with Devonian trilobites next to Cambrian trilobites. This is called faked assemblages. A common practice is to make a pleasing aesthetic design of trilobites arranged neatly in a “circular motion” - always avoid these as they are never natural. Sometimes they are claimed to be genuine trilobites set in the pattern but the chances are they are forged. Even if they are real trilobites I would not purchase these as they do not show an accurate representation of life in the ancient environment.
On spiny trilobites, the faked ones spines are usually made of mini orthoceras stuck on. Look out for the spines being slightly different lengths as that indicates a fake.
To make these trilobites merchants get some natural rock and hollow out a section for the trilobite to go it. They make the trilobite out of resin, and then glue it into the rock. The good thing is you can easily tell it is a fake from when they do this because it leaves a line around the trilobite as seen in the picture below. They also try to make it look like they have used an air pen to prepare it, but by doing this they make it easier to spot, as they make the lines too big, even and would not have benefited the preparation process.
Compound Mosasaur Jaws
Mosasaur jaws can still be found in the phosphate mines in Khouribga, Morocco, however, teeth with intact roots alone are uncommonly found. Mosasaur jaws are very quick and easy to make in bulk and can be sold for considerable amounts of money compared to the cost of making them. The majority of stores in which they can be found for sale mention them to be “compound, made from real teeth and bone” or do not mention that the jaws are forged. Sadly this is often not the case and the teeth are the only genuine part.
The jaws are made of comprised or crushed matrix (the original matrix) and a strong binding substance in between. The jaw is made up of recent animal bone, plaster or uncommonly chunks of fossil reptile bone which have little overall value. The teeth are cheap Mosasaur teeth, the majority of which were broken and so only the good side can be seen.
There are many reports of people submerging the compound jaws in water to dissolve the matrix and jaw away to retrieve the genuine teeth. Adding water breaks up the bonding material so all that is left is a pile of sand, the teeth and what’s left of the jaw. It is a very destructive method but gets rid of the crude arrangement.
Fake Mosasaur Fossils
There has been an increase in Mosasaur teeth with fake roots made in and out of the matrix they are found in. Teeth with genuine roots attached are much rarer than just the crown with no root. Plaster fakes will be textured but missing open pores, it might even have some evidence of air bubbles showing. Adding these fake roots makes the tooth essentially worthless as the honesty of the specimen is destroyed. Though they make great display pieces, the layout is often misleading and not anatomically correct with a too long or short root for the root.
The specimen below was made up from a genuine tooth and partial root set together and any gaps filled with plaster. Rows of teeth such as this one are a common sight at fossil shows.
Repaired Dinosaur Teeth
Otodus Shark Teeth
To spot them, you should look for air bubbles as with trilobites, detailed textures and patterns in the shell, from growth. Also, look for a shiny outer shell. The outer shell should be slightly different then from the inside. If it is the same, it is plaster or resin.