Fossils are a record of a bygone era. Most of us think of dinosaur bones that have turned to stone over the years, but the word "fossil" can also be applied to other remains such as footprints or DNA preserved in amber. Scientists typically strive for intellectual honesty, but sometimes the lure of fame and funding leads people to make fossil jokes – here are some of the most famous and outrageous.
. 1 Maraapunisaurus fragillimus – kidding or not?
One of the most interesting cases was a massive vertebra (and possibly a femur) for a dinosaur that may never have existed. A man named Oramel William Lucas discovered the fossils in Colorado near places where other remains have been found. If the vertebra were real, it should have been one of the largest dinosaurs ever. Unfortunately, the actual fossils were "lost" and not seen by anyone else, and all that's left is a hand-drawn illustration. Many paleontologists discussed whether it was real at all or whether such a large dinosaur could have existed without collapsing under its own weight. Today it is believed that the original animal size estimates were incorrect and the fossil may have been real. Unfortunately we will never know for sure.
. 2 Traces of the Piluxy River
Petrified footprints found near the Piluxy River in Texas appeared to show that dinosaur and human footprints had mingled. Creationists and supporters of evolution discussed the footprints and came to several wrong conclusions. Finally, the researchers decided that none of the footprints were human. It is now believed that dinosaurs made the human-like prints with only part of their feet and that the shape of the prints had been changed by erosion.
3 Nebraska Man was just a pig
A rancher in Nebraska named Harold Cook found a tooth in 1
. 4 The Piltdown "Man"
Perhaps the best known fraud, the Piltdown Man bone fragments, should also have been a missing link humanoid. They were introduced to the Natural History Museum in London in 1912 by a man named Charles Dawson. It was believed that they were about 40 years old and 500,000 years old. In 1953, however, it was finally identified as a joke – the bone fragments came from a modern orangutan and a modern man with a small head, and were intentionally mixed to resemble a functional skull.
. 5 Archaeoraptor
The most modern hoax occurred in China. This was another "missing link" case, but this time there was a connection between ancient dinosaurs and modern birds. Farmers in poorer regions of China have found a way to make a fortune digging up dinosaur bones, and this has inevitably led to increasingly complex counterfeiting. This managed to fool National Geographic in 1999. Eventually the individual bones were carefully identified and it became clear that some were from a known type of early bird while others had been carefully mixed in by a known type of dinosaur to create a new looking skeleton.