Archaeological forgery is the manufacture of supposedly ancient items that are sold to the antiquities market and may even end up in the collections of museums. It is related to art forgery.
A string of archaeological forgeries have usually followed news of prominent archaeological excavations. Historically, famous excavations like those in Crete, Valley of the Kings in Egypt and Pompeii have caused the appearance of a number of forgeries supposedly spirited away from the dig. Those have been usually presented in the open market but some have also ended up in museum collections and as objects of serious historical study.
In recent times, forgeries of pre-Columbian pottery from South America have been very common. Other popular examples include Ancient Egyptian earthenware and supposed ancient Greek cheese. There have also been paleontological forgeries like the archaeoraptor.
Most archaeological forgeries are made for reasons similar to art forgeries – for financial gain. The monetary value of an item that is thought to be thousands of years old is higher than if the item were sold as a souvenir.
However, archaeological or paleontological forgers may have other motives; they may try to manufacture proof for their point of view or favorite theory (or against a point of view/theory they dislike), or to gain increased fame and prestige for themselves. If the intention is to create "proof" for religious history, it is pious fraud.
Investigators of archaeological forgery rely on the tools of archaeology in general. Since the age of the object is usually the most significant detail, they try to use radiocarbon dating or neutron activation analysis to find out the real age of the object.
Criticisms of antiquities trade
Some historians and archaeologists have strongly criticized the antiquities trade for putting profit and art collecting before the scientific accuracy and veracity. This, in effect, favours the archaeological forgery. Allegedly some of the items in prominent museum collections are of dubious or at least of unknown origin. Looters who rob archaeologically important places and supply the antiquities market are rarely concerned with exact dating and placement of the items. Antique dealers may also embellish a genuine item to make it more saleable. Sometimes traders may even sell items that are attributed to nonexistent cultures.
As is the case with art forgery, scholars and experts don't always agree on the authenticity of particular finds. Sometimes an entire research topic of a scholar may be based on finds that are later suspected as forgeries.
Known archaeological forgers
- Alceo Dossena, 19th century creator of many Archaic and Medieval statues
- Shinichi Fujimura, who planted specimens on false layers to gain more prestige
- Brigido Lara, Mexican forger of pre-Columbian antiquities
- Shaun Greenhalgh, a prolific and versatile British forger, who with the help of his family forged Ancient Egyptian statues, Roman Silverware and Celtic gold jewelry among more modern artworks. Arrested in 2006 attempting to sell three Assyrian reliefs to the British Museum.
- Edward Simpson, Victorian forger of Prehistoric Flint tools. He sold forgeries to many British museums, including the Yorkshire Museum and the British Museum
- Moses Shapira, purveyor of fake biblical artifacts
- Tjerk Vermaning, Dutch amateur archaeologist whose Middle Paleolithic finds were declared forgeries
Known archaeological forgeries and hoaxes
- Calaveras Skull
- Cardiff Giant
- Davenport Tablets
- "Egyptian mummy" ca. 1898 at the Old Capitol Museum, Jackson, MS
- Etruscan terracotta warriors in the Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Glozel tablets
- Grave Creek Stone
- Japanese Paleolithic hoax
- Michigan relics
- Persian Princess, forged ancient mummy, possible murder victim
- Piltdown Man
- Tiara of Saitaferne in Louvre
Cases generally believed by professional archaeologists to be forgeries or hoaxes
Cases that several professional archaeologists believe to be forgeries or hoaxes
- Romey, Kristin M.; Rose, Mark (January–February 2001). "Special Report: Saga of the Persian Princess". Archaeology. Archaeological Institute of America. 54 (1).