A Tale Of Two Comura - Reconstructed Trilobite Spines

Posted: 02/17/14 05:04 PM : By Matt Heaton : Comments

Unfortunately, there is a long history of fake and heavily restored fossils being marketed as authentic.  Even a lot of well known dealers don't disclose the amount of restoration work that has been done on specimens they sell.  In many cases I don't think it's a problem of dishonesty.  I think most simply don't know better.  The methods of restoring/reconstructing fossils have continued to advance and many of the signs people are used to looking for just don't work anymore.

I go through great lengths to ensure that the fossils being sold on FossilEra are accuretely represented.  I am able to fall back on nearly two decades of experience collecting and preparing fossil trilobites to assist in this.  For example some of the reconstruction on trilobites  has reached a level that even with my experience, and under microscope I sometimes can't pick it out.  That's why I often need to resort "destructive" methods to expose potential restoration such as air abrading away possible paint or using solvents.

Here is an of the very spiny trilobite, Comura bultyncki which has a full compliment of over 40 vertical spines along it's back.  These trilobites are highly coveted by collectors and take a tremendous amount of highly skilled work to prepare correctly.  A good prepared example will typically take 40+ hours of work.  My friend purchased it down at the Tucson fossil show several weeks ago.

We were both initially skeptical about the degree of restoration on it, but we spent quite a while examing it under a loup.  There was obviously some restoration, but under a loup the spines didn't have a lot of the obvious giveaways of fake spines.  Looking back it the photo it's obvious in hindsight given that they are way too symetrical.  We even had someone with us who I would probably consider one of the foremost experts in the world on Devonian trilobites in Morocco, and he concurred that the spines were likely real.  My friend decided to purchase the specimen and a few others from the dealer.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and my friend asked if I could sell one of the spiny trilobites he purchased for him.  I needed to determine what had been restored on the specimen, so I put it to the air abrasives test under microscope.  The paint on the spines began to melt away and it quickly became apparent that every one of the free-standing spines along it's back had been reconstructed along with the right genal spine and several of the pleural spines.  See how they are whitish not black when the paint is removed in the photo.

I was actually pretty surprised given how well the spines had been reconstructed, a task that would have probably taken nearly as many hours as to prepare them out in the first place.

For comparison here's Comura also purchased at the same show where not only are all the spines real but it has no restoration work at all.

 

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