Over the years, I’ve collected my fair share of fossils. Like any other collector, I like to search in person and online for the best possible specimens. But, occasionally, I do run into some duds. I have a perfect example from a tooth I bought from Morocco. See this fossil tooth? Yeah, it’s fake. Well, part of it, at least. Here’s how you can tell.
First off, Morocco is famous for being rich with fossils, but it is also infamous for being rich with fake fossils. So that’s an early hint to keep in mind.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the tooth itself. There’s already something weird going on here. You can see globs of sand stuck to the tooth, and there’s more of this sand between the tooth and the root. This “sand” is actually a type of composite or cement that was used to glue the tooth to the root.
There’s something suspicious about the “root” of this mosasaur tooth as well. If we compare it to mosasaur fossils in museums, this “root” looks dramatically different from the museum one. That’s because it’s not a root at all. It appears to be a random bone from a completely different species, and it’s probably not even ancient. It could be a goat or a sheep bone.
The old switcheroo is surprisingly common with mosasaur fossils, especially in ones from Morocco. Sellers create fake roots, fake jaws, and even fake skulls to swindle unassuming buyers into spending hundreds or, even, thousands of dollars on a random assortment of rocks, dirt, and glue. Ironically, the crowns of teeth (the enamel-covered bits above the root) are real. The crown portions of mosasaur teeth are incredibly common in Morocco and, as a result, are very cheap to buy and use as raw material for fake fossils.
But these mosasaur teeth are far from the only fake fossils. Let’s check out some other fossils on the internet that are not 100% real. Here are some examples. One of these fossils is real. All the others are fake. Can you tell which one it is?
Figured it out? If you chose the one on the top right, you’re right! Everything else here is fake or mostly fake. They might as well be art pieces!
Aside from fake fossils, you also need to know about black market fossils. Some countries, such as China, prohibit the export of fossils. If you see fossils for sale from China, they are either illegal or fake. So don’t buy fossils that were “made in China”.
Other countries allow the sale of real fossils, but they may come at a huge price. Myanmar is a huge exporter of Mesozoic amber containing insects and spiders, just like the ones seen in Jurassic Park. Many years ago, I bought this spider encased in amber that came from Myanmar. At the time, I didn’t know it was any different from other fossils I had purchased. Later on, I discovered that these fossils are often collected through forced labor in mines. These are called “blood fossils”. Similar to blood diamonds, blood fossils are gathered and sold at the expense of human rights. So, although I have this one example to show you, I am no longer comfortable buying these knowing what I know now.
Between the fake fossils and the unethical fossils, I have become much more cautious dealing with the fossil market. I do my research before buying a fossil, and I buy fossils that are common and not noteworthy to science. If you’re looking for ethical fossils, your best bets are teeth from sharks, mosasaurs, and spinosaurs as well as ammonites and trilobites. These are all very common fossils, but they are still incredibly awesome!
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