Archaeological forgery

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Statuette of a seated man. Pseudo-cuneiform inscription. Fake artifact; archaeological forgery. It was supposed to be sold as a genuine ancient Mesopotamian piece. Confiscation; not-on-display. Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraq

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, the 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 or the Piltdown Man skull.


Statuette of a Sumerian male worshipper. Fake artifact; archaeological forgery. It was supposed to be sold as a genuine ancient Mesopotamian piece.Confiscation; not-on-display. Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraq

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 considered 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[edit]

Some historians and archaeologists have strongly criticized the antiquities trade for putting profit and art collecting before 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. Antiquities 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.[citation needed]

Known archaeological forgers[edit]

Known archaeological forgeries and hoaxes[edit]

Head of Gudea, ruler of Lagash, a confiscated forgery. It was supposed to be sold as a genuine ancient Mesopotamian piece. Not-on-display. The Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraq. A similar, but a genuine head, is in the Met Museum, New York

Cases generally believed by professional archaeologists to be forgeries or hoaxes[edit]

Cases that several professional archaeologists believe to be forgeries or hoaxes[edit]

Cases that some professional archaeologists believe to be forgeries or hoaxes[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "James Mellaart: Pioneer…..and Forger" Popular Archaeology 11 Oct 2019
  2. ^ TALANTA, Proceedings of the Dutch Archaeological and Historical Society 2018 - Volume L
  3. ^ Romey, Kristin M.; Rose, Mark (January–February 2001). "Special Report: Saga of the Persian Princess". Archaeology. Archaeological Institute of America. 54 (1).