Is it real? That is a question often asked at museums across the country and also when I am showing people fossils found on our coastline. It is a very obvious question and usually the answer is yes, but not always. Sometimes replica fossils will be used in place of the real thing, but why?
A reproduction of a genuine fossil may be used for a number of reasons, it maybe that there is only a very limited number of the real thing so for a museum to display one they need to use a copy. This is often the case with dinosaur skeletons. Many UK museums now have on display a full size Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, but all of them are replicas based on famous finds such as Stan and Sue (they really are called that), excavated and on display in the USA, where Tyrannosaurus rex is found. Without these replicas people would have to travel to the USA to see these magnificent creatures.
Another reason why replicas may be used is the real thing might be too fragile, heavy or even dangerous to handle. The Allosaur skull seen here is also a replica we use for school sessions and birthday parties, whilst it would nice to have the real thing that is just not possible (and it would be too heavy to transport around schools!).
Making replicas is also a way of making sure scientific data is shared as widely as possible, whilst in Victorian times the replicas were made of plaster, today new developments have seen 3D printers being used to replicate fossils and sharing them across the world. It might not be too long before you will be able to print your own T-rex off in your bedroom, I just hope you have a enough room.
To find some of your own real fossils why not join one of our trips this summer, all the details are here.
First produced in Issue 22 of The Scarborough Review