10 March 2011

Floating crinoid fossil - fake or real ?

I recently visited a rock shop and saw the beautiful and delicate floating crinoid pictured above.  It wasn't very expensive, and I thought it would look nice in our living room next to the Romanian cave bear tooth.

When I got home, I sat down to type up a label to put in the case, and did a quick internet search for background information.  The Echinoblog has an excellent post on the various forms of pelagic crinoids - ones that attached to floating driftwood, ones that maintained buoyancy with gas-filled floats, stemless floating ones (like the one above), and "dredgers."

Then I encountered a commercial site called Paleodirect, which offered the floating crinoids above; note how their delicate feathery arms are crumbled up, sort of like a jellyfish washed ashore on a beach.  That image contrasts markedly with the one from their site shown inset at the left, which was accompanied by the following notation:
"Over the last number of years, the fossil market had been flooded with numerous fake, painted floating crinoid fossils from the Solnhofen deposits in Bavaria. If you see one for sale that looks like the small photo below, then it is a fake and was painted on the rock, in most cases, not over ANY fossil portion. These are often sold as cheap single pieces or sometimes with 2 or 3 on a small limestone plate. They are sold as "floating crinoid fossils" or Saccocoma. If you Google "SACCOCOMA FOSSILS FOR SALE" you may still find some examples of fakes for sale."
I then looked at my new acquisition with the highest magnification I had available at home; it looks like there may be some actual fossilized material in the center and on some arms, but the bulk of the "feathers" appear to be painted on.  I suppose one could call it an "enchanced" specimen, but I'll be returning it this next week.  The shop is run by highly ethical and knowledgeable members of our local rock/mineral club, so I suspect they acquired the floating crinoid in some bulk lot without much background information.

I know there are experienced rockhounds who read this blog; please feel free to offer your own insights and opinions.


  1. I am not a rockhound, but I would say that the pretty photo you posted looks really really just like a painting on rock.
    Maybe you should just enjoy it for what it is, a painting of a fossil.

  2. Certainly appears that you (and the shopkeeper?) were duped.

    Nonetheless: it's a very beautiful artifact. If it had been displayed in an art gallery and titled "Idealized Crinoid Fossil", would you still have considered the price you paid for it fair, and still be willing to display it in your home?

    If so, and assuming your shopkeeper friend was indeed cheated, maybe you might both consider splitting the price between you and keeping it anyway. It obviously has aesthetic value, and now can serve as an educational/conversational touchstone as well!

  3. I'm a rockhound, a volunteer paleo preparator, and an artist. You bought a painting of a fossil that may have a tiny bit of actual fossil material.

    I don't have a problem with shops selling reproductions if they label them as such. I don't think the painted "fossil" looks much like an actual specimen, prettiness aside.

    I'm the proud owner of a "bondo bug" that I mentioned in another thread. It wasn't sold as a reproduction, but the price was obviously too low to be a real specimen of that size and quality.

    A real Solnhofen specimen Saccocoma is pretty cheap. I see one site that says the fossils have been "highlighted" because the actual fossil impression is very pale.

  4. To add to BJN's comment above, here's an article about fossil fakes from Morocco: http://www.collectingfossils.org/MoroccanTrilobites.htm aka 'bondo bugs'.

    Seems there's a whole cottage industry pumping these things out for the US and European markets.

  5. Good heavens - you can see the brushstrokes!

  6. It does look exactly like a sketch done in brown sharpie. It's pretty in its own right, though. I'd actually consider the fake a more interesting conversation piece than the real thing, but then I'm far more of a sociologist than a rockhound.

  7. Hi, I follow your blog for two years now and was looking for a reason to say congratulations. Sorry to disappoint you, but I am from Romania and I highly doubt that what you have in your living room is an actual cave bear tooth :)

    My regards and keep up this good blogging.

  8. I"m beginning to doubt it too...

    I also wonder about the fossilized shrimp.


  9. Matthew and other have said it - as an artist I'll pile on and here's why: the color has points that are darker at the beginning or end of each brush stroke. Dead giveaway.

  10. I'm not a rockhound, but the fact that this was a painted on fossil actually brought up something from a National Geographic channel show I watching some time back.

    It was about fossiled feathered dinosaurs and a team of scientist had gone down to a Chinese museum to check out their specimens on display. When the finally started checking these fossils out (on limestone) they discovered that on some of the fossils, the currator had painted the feathers into the fossilized feather impressions, as to make them contrast more with the surrounding limestone. That random piece in that show just jumped out at me as I was going through this article.

  11. who cares. You love it and that is enough. I recently bought a fake Leica camera, knowing it was a fake but I love it. As it is the camera is much older than it is supposed to be so WIN.
    As long as you love it be happy

  12. But the point, Woosang (and my reason for writing the post) is that I do not love it. I do love authentic natural objects and I do love beautifully crafted items, but I don't love deception or fakery.

    I have a display case containing flakes from ancient flintmaking that I found after sifting some dirt, but I wouldn't buy or display a modern arrowhead or point.

    Fake and forged items are the bane of many serious collectors (stamps and coins for example). They can, however, be collected as such for reference material.

    This particular item should have been displayed in the store, as BiCurious George suggested, as "idealized crinoid fossil." Then I would have briefly admired the skill of the artist -- and spent my money on a real mineral specimen instead.

  13. Ah in which case, bummer. I do agree though it should have been advertised as a representation. I do hate finding out later that things are less than you paid for.

    I love it as a piece of art so I thought you did too.

    Oh well.

  14. I recently became aware of the number of fake mineral specimens in the world via fakeminerals.com Apparently there is a global cottage industry of fake mineral and fossil specimens, many very creatively designed.

  15. Thanks! You just saved me from buying a fake floating crinoid in Taos, NM. I'd still have bought it for its resemblance to 1960s retro googie graphics were it not $50.


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