Chinese Paleontologist Raise Doubts About a Cheetah Fossil

In a 24 December 2010 News Focus story in Science, Dr. DENG Tao,  Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), Chinese Academy of Sciences, presented a query for a 2009 PNAS paper by Per Christiansen of the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen and Ji H. Mazák of the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. Christiansen and Mazák reported a new species of the cheetah (Acinonyx kurteni) from the Late Pliocene loess deposits of the Linxia Basin in Gansu Province, China. As a vertebrate paleontologist who specialized on the Late Cenozoic mammals of the Linxia Basin for many years, Deng naturally had particular interests in reading this paper. Having carefully checked the described skull in this paper’s figures, unfortunately, he found that Christiansen and Mazák studied a fossil forgery, the sole foundation of the paper. In a 4 March 2011 letter in Science, Mazák and Christiansen note “the occipital area and zygomatic arches have been heavily restored in plaster, probably to make it appear more complete, thus enhancing its commercial value, a common malpractice among Chinese fossil dealers.” Deng and his colleague responded, also in Science, that they are pleased to see this note, but stand by their view that the skull is a composite with fabricated features.

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– Majid