News & AnalysisPaleontology

Authenticity of China's Fabulous Fossils Gets New Scrutiny

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Science  07 Jun 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6137, pp. 1153-1154
DOI: 10.1126/science.340.6137.1153

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Last week, a feathered fossil from northeastern China made headlines when paleontologists unveiled it as the earliest known bird. Aurornis was the latest in a decadelong string of splendidly preserved bird and dinosaur specimens from Liaoning province, where a burgeoning industry in fossil hunting and preparation has given scientists around the world access to many more specimens (Aurornis among them) than they could dig up themselves. But such secondhand fossils have a downside: Sloppy records or even outright forgeries can make it hard for researchers studying a specimen to tell where it came from, how old it is, or sometimes even whether it is genuine. Now paleontologists both inside and outside China are calling for extra care in testing fossils for authenticity and keeping track of their provenance.