Oscar White Muscarella

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Oscar White Muscarella (born 1931) is an American archaeologist and former research fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he worked for over 40 years before retiring in 2009. His specialty is the antique art and archeology of the Near East, especially ancient Persia. Muscarella is an untiring opponent of robbery excavations, and some regard him as the "conscience of the industry". Dr. Muscarella received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1965.

Early life[edit]

He was born Oscar White Jr. and lived with his parents and brother in the Bronx. His father worked as an elevator operator, and the family was poor. In 1939 his mother married Sam Muscarella, Muscarella adopted Oscar and his brother. They lived in lower Manhattan and later in the Bronx, his father seldom making enough money to feed his family. At times they survived on government assistance programs. He attended a Catholic school, Mary Help of Christians, then Public School 104, and then Junior High 40 in the Bronx. Teachers encouraged him to take the tests to qualify for Stuyvesant High in Manhattan. He passed and went there instead of the local high school. At Stuyvesant he joined the Archaeology Club. While living in Manhattan, Muscarella had joined the Gramercy Boy's Club and fell in love with the books he found in the club library. (In 2000 among several people to whom he dedicated his book, The Lie Made Great, was Miss Jones, the Club's librarian, "my first and best librarian.") During his high school years in the Bronx, Muscarella contributed to family support by shining shoes, working at a ball park and after 14 working as an usher in a local theater. He started university at NYU but for his second year transferred to CCNY as an evening session student, working during the day. He graduated in 1955. At City College of New York, Muscarella was president in 1953 of the Evening Session History Society.

Fight against the antiquities trade[edit]

Muscarella sees rich collectors of illegal antiquities and also museums as greatly harming archeology. By offering such great sums for important artifacts, they create great incentives for people to hastily plunder sites in order to find the most marketable artifacts, and also encourage forgeries. Since these people have no incentive to take the care that professional archaeologists would, they may end up destroying a great many of the site's artifacts. Large parts of culture history, it is claimed, have been destroyed in this manner. According to Muscarella, museums have been complicit in accepting "bazaar archeology", invented proveniences for objects that are either illegally dug up or forged. Curators are not encouraged to point out awkward questions about objects in their collections, or being bought, donated or loaned for exhibition.

For example Muscarella wrote in 1977 on the Ziwiye hoard, supposedly found in 1947 in Iranian Kurdistan, pointing out that none of the items were excavated under archaeological conditions, but passed through the hands of dealers. He concludes that "there are no objective sources of information that any of the attributed objects actually were found at Ziwiye, although it is probable that some were", and that the objects have no historical and archaeological value as a group".[1]


Muscarella has gained some notoriety in his attempts to unmask certain important artifacts as forgeries, including some in the collection of the Metropolitan. His book The Lie became Great. The Forgery of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures (2000) was a blistering attack, which included a long catalogue of specific objects in museums, private collections, and the art market which he said were modern forgeries. Some entire categories of objects were claimed to be all forgeries.[2] The book was well received by reviewers in academic journals, several of whom concluded that it should be "required" or "compulsory" reading for those in the field.[3]

In 2003 he was reported in The Times in London, in a story by Peter Watson, to have "labelled as mostly fake" the Oxus Treasure in the British Museum.[4] However he was attacked in a letter to The Times by the Director of the Metropolitan, Philippe de Montebello, who said Muscarella, a long-standing critic of museums' tolerance and even encouragement of the trade in illegal antiquities, only remained there because of the "exigencies of academic tenure". Montebello was himself criticised for suppressing debate.[5] In an article on the Oxus Treasure published in 2003 Muscarella goes nothing like as far, but does fiercely attack the assumed unity of the treasure and the narratives of its provenience, and is sceptical of the authenticity of some of the votive plaques.[6]


  • Archaeology, Artifacts, and Antiquities of the Ancient Near East: Sites, Cultures, and Proveniences. Leiden: Brill, 2013. https://books.google.com/books?id=5AOw0GB0zHsC&dq. ISBN 9004236694
  • "Bronzes of Luristan." Encyclopedia Iranica. 2004. www.iranicaonline.org.
  • "Jiroft and 'Jiroft-Aratta'." Review of Jiroft: The Earliest Oriental Civilization, by Yousef Majidzadeh. Bulletin of the Asia Institute 15 (2001): 173-98.
  • The Lie Became Great: The Forgery of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures. Groningen: Styx, 2000. ISBN 90-5693-041-9
  • Bronze and Iron: Ancient Near Eastern Artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988. ISBN 0-87099-525-1
  • ed. "Introduction." Source: Notes in the History of Art 7, nos. 3/4 (1988). Special issue: Phrygian Art and Archaeology: 2-4.
  • "The Background to the Luristan Bronzes." In Bronzeworking Centres of Western Asia C. 1000-539 B.C., edited by John Curtis, 33-44. London: Kegan Paul, International, 1988.
  • ed. Ladders to Heaven: Art Treasures from Lands of the Bible. Exh. Cat. Toronto: McLelland and Stuart, 1981.
  • "Surkh Dum at The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Mini-Report." Journal of Field Archaeology 8, no. 3 (1981): 327-59. doi:https://www.jstor.org/stable/529573.
  • The Catalogue of Ivories from Hasanlu, Iran. Philadelphia: University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, 1980.
  • "Unexcavated Objects and Ancient Near Eastern Art: Addenda." Edited by G. Buccellati. Occasional Papers on the Near East 1, no. 1 (1979): 2-14. ISBN 0-89003-043-X
  • "'Ziwiye' and Ziwiye: The Forgery of Provenience." Journal of Field Archaeology 4 (1979): 197-219.
  • "Urartian Bells and Samos." Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 10 (1978): 61-72.
  • "The Archaeological Evidence for Relations between Greece and Iran in the First Millennium B.C." Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 9, no. 1 (1977): 31-57.
  • "Unexcavated Objects and Ancient Near Eastern Art." In Mountains and Lowlands: Essays in the Archaeology of Greater Mesopotamia, edited by Louis D. Levine and T. Cuyler Young, Jr., 153-207. Malibu: Undena Publications, 1977.
  • "The Tumuli at Sé Girdan: Second Report." Metropolitan Museum Journal 4 (1971): 5-28. doi: 10.2307/1512614.
  • ed. Ancient Art: The Norbert Schimmel Collection. Mainz: Verlag Philipp Von Zabern, 1974.
  • Phrygian Fibulae from Gordion. London: Quaritch, 1967.



  1. ^ Oscar White Muscarella, "'Ziwiye' and Ziwiye: The Forgery of Provenience," Journal of Field Archaeology 4 (1979): 197; reprint, Oscar White Muscarella, Archaeology, Artifacts, and Antiquities of the Ancient Near East: Sites, Cultures, and Proveniences (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 955.
  2. ^ James Gardner, "Met Fakes Unearthed?" The New York Post (New York), February 1, 2001. Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ See: David W. J. Gill, review of The Lie Became Great: The Forgery of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, American Journal of Archaeology 107, no. 2 (April 2003): 285-286. Gill asserts, "The Lie should be compulsory reading for any archaeologist who has ever had to deal with material which has not been derived from an archaeological excavation-"; see also: Lucille A. Roussin, Journal of Field Archaeology, vol. 29, no. 3/4 (2002), 494-496, and Morag M. Kersel, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 335 (August 2004), 101-103.
  4. ^ Peter Watson, "All that glisters isn't old", The Times, December 19, 2003.
  5. ^ "The Metropolitan and the Oxus Treasure", ArtWatch, January 5, 2004; see also: Philippe de Montebello, "The Oxus Treasure: From the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art," The Times, December 26, 2003. Montebello writes in the opening paragraph of his letter, "I am frankly astonished by the unofficial comments about the Oxus Treasure at the British Museum from someone you call 'a distinguished archaeologist' at the Metropolitan, but who is someone whom we have marginalized within our museum."
  6. ^ Oscar White Muscarella, Archaeology, Artifacts, and Antiquities of the Ancient Near East: Sites, Cultures, and Proveniences (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 969. ISBN 9004236694, 9789004236691, google books

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