GENERICO.ruScienceThe remains of a 280-million-year-old reptile found in the Alps have been declared a fake.

The remains of a 280-million-year-old reptile found in the Alps have been declared a fake.

“Really just paint”

Incredibly well-preserved skin tissue from an “important” prehistoric fossil discovered in the Alps in 1931 has turned out to be a fake. The skin tissue of the “important” fossil was thought to be 280 million years old. But it turned out that in fact this is nothing more than black paint on the thread.

What was thought to be incredibly preserved skin tissue from the oldest fossil reptile from the Alps is actually paint, reveals new research, writes the Daily Mail.

The 280-million-year-old ancient Tridentinosaurus was discovered in the Italian Alps in 1931 and was considered an important specimen for understanding the early evolution of reptiles.

However, new analysis has shown that the dark outline of the animal's body, which was originally thought to be preserved soft tissue, are actually just paint.

When the fossil was first studied, it was classified as a member of the Protorosauria group of reptiles. But many experts were unsure about this and the fossil's history due to the somewhat strange preservation of the skin.

This prompted a team of researchers from Ireland's University College Cork (UCC) and the Italian University of Padua, the South Tyrol Nature Museum and Museum science in Trento to investigate.

Ultraviolet photography initially showed that the specimen had been treated with some kind of coating material, and later microscopic analysis showed that the texture and composition of the material did not match that of genuine fossilized soft tissue.

Paleontologists eventually determined that the fossil, once renowned for its remarkable preservation, was mostly black paint on a carved rock surface in the shape of a lizard.

Dr. Valentina Rossi from the UCLA School of Biological, Geosciences and Environmental Sciences explains: “Fossil soft tissues are rare, but when found in fossils they can reveal important biological information such as external coloration, internal anatomy and physiology. However, our findings indicate that the body contours of Tridentinosaurus Antiquus were artificially created, probably to enhance the appearance of the fossil.”

Dr Rossi explains that varnishing of fossils was the norm in the past and is sometimes still necessary to preservation of the fossil specimen in museums – so the team hypothesized that the original soft tissue may be under the coating layer.

“This deception misled previous researchers,” explained Dr Rossi.

Study co-author Professor Evelyn Kustacher, curator at the South Tyrol Nature Museum, added: “The unusual preservation of Tridentinosaurus has puzzled experts for decades. Now it all makes sense.” “What has been described as charred skin is actually just paint. It's an example of how modern analytical paleontology and rigorous scientific methods can solve a nearly century-old mystery.”

The study, published in the journal Palaeontology, urges researchers to exercise caution when using the specimen in future studies.

But scientists also say the fossil may not be entirely fake. The bones of the hind limbs, particularly the femurs, appear to be genuine, even if poorly preserved. And new tests revealed the presence of tiny bony scales called osteoderms – similar to the scales of crocodiles – on what may have been the animal's back. Further research is needed to confirm these findings.

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