Soft Tissue in Fossil Turns Out to Be Black Paint

A fossil of a reptile was discovered in the Italian Alps in 1931. It was identified as being 280 million years old, a new species of a new genus named Tridentinosaurus antiquus. The fossil, described in 1959, was unique in that the soft tissue was preserved as carbonized skin or flesh. That could have happened if the animal died from the pyroclastic flash of a volcanic eruption, which would have burnt its exterior before it was buried. It was altogether considered an outstanding specimen.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and the fossil was revisited with modern tools for chemical analysis that are minimally invasive. The reptile fossil was compared to plant fossils found in the same area, and found to be quite different. The carbonized flesh was determined to be "a manufactured carbon-based pigment mixed with an organic binder," or the kind of black paint used in the early 20th century. The actual fossil appears to consist of only the long bones of the hind legs.

Was it a hoax? Not necessarily. Fossils were treated very differently in 1931, and the alterations are consistent with some practices of the day. Adding lacquer or varnish to a fossil was thought to help preserve them, but actually caused damage. The paint may have been to illustrate what scientists thought the complete animal would have looked like. But there's no evidence that it was all that accurate. Read the history of Tridentinosaurus antiquus and how the modern analysis changed it at Ars Technica.  -via Strange Company ā€‹

(Image credit: Valentina Rossi

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