1. The Fly Fake
Experts of fly evolutionary history were actually glad that this first one was a hoax. In 1993, Andrew Ross was studying one of thousands of specimens at the Natural History Museum, and noticed something peculiar about this fly preserved in amber from the Victorian age. The fly was remarkably advanced and was supposed to have come from the Baltic region about 38 million years ago, but resembled a modern fly. Suspicious, right? Nobody thought so until Ross noticed a line, almost like a scratch, running along the back side of the amber piece. The delved a little deeper into this mystery and discovered that the amber had been cut neatly in half at some point and the center scraped out, forming a hole large enough for the fly. The hole was then filled in with an amber colored resin and the two halves of the amber resealed.
Why were fly experts glad when this was revealed to be a hoax? The fake fossil would have meant that flies had been far too advanced that long ago, according to every other piece of evidence they have.
2. Piltdown Chicken
The Piltdown Man is one of the most famous hoaxes in the study of human evolution. Supposedly the missing link between humans and apes, it was actually a human cranium and orangutan jaw. The Piltdown chicken is just like the man, only a bird.
In 1999, it seemed that the missing link between birds and dinosaurs had been discovered in Northern China. The fossil had a long tail like dinosaurs, but long arms and a small body, like birds. It was about the size of a chicken. At the time, it was heralded as the missing link, but the next year, Xiu Xung, a Chinese paleontologist, discovered the mirror image of the tail (it has been sheared in two when excavated, which isn’t unusual) and saw that it actually belonged to Archaeoraptor. Someone had taken the tail and attached it to a chicken. Very tricky …
3. Amphicoelias fragillimus
This was supposedly the biggest dinosaur to have ever lived, of all time. Discovered in Colorado in the late 1800s, only a single vertebrae was ever found, but supposedly it was collosal. Unfortunately, this ground-breaking fossil was mysteriously “lost in transit” and none other like it have ever been found. Giving this likely hoax a sliver of benefit of the doubt, this dinosaur would have weighed over 100 tons and been 150 feet long. For comparison, Brachiosaurus weighed only (only!) a little over 62 tons on average.
4. Spot the Apatosaurus
In 2014, several news outlets claimed that a British university had been successful with fertilizing and hatching a baby Apatosaurus using fossil DNA and an ostrich egg. The articles claimed that the baby was healthy and named Spot. So how was this believable and well-documented scientific breakthrough unmasked as the hoax it is? Well, those clever pranksters used a picture of a newborn kangaroo joey and claimed that he was Spot. Only the sharpest minds could see through that one.
Sometimes, hoaxers take advantage of what’s popular in the market and even attempt to create a business out of making fake fossils. Albert Koch did just this in the mid-1800s when he stuck together bones from several whales to create a prehistoric sea monster-esque creature that was well over 100 feet long. He quickly sold it to teh King of Germany, who put it on display in Berlin. The fraud was soon discovered, but Koch made another hydrarchos afterwards and tried to sell that one, too, but was, understandably, unsuccessful.
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