Authenticity of museum objects becomes a big issue when fakes slip through careful research. This causes controversy, regardless of whether the museum knew of the fakes or not. Egyptian museums present themselves as a case study in object authenticity as this has not been simply a contemporary issue. Arguably, for as long as Egyptian artifacts have been considered valuable, fakes have appeared. However, the present has made authenticity an important topic to discuss when considering the preservation and destruction of cultural heritage. 

Forgery is used primarily as an economic means. Museums now face pressure surrounding the confirmation of the authenticity of their own objects. Fakes can be highly detailed and confuse even highly trained specialists. This was the case for a sarcophagus death mask at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where a dealer in Egypt had sold the piece to the museum with “proper” documentation to support its authenticity; it was later found that everything was forged with precise detail.1

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo dealt with a similar situation when a scholar questioned the authenticity of the Meidium Geese plaster wall painting.2 Francesco Tiradritti, an Egyptologist from Italy, argued that the geese within the painting could not have been in Egypt at the time it was created.3 This caused an uproar amongst Egyptologists. Dr. Zani Hawass, former Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, argued that “This of course is completely false”, citing Tiradritti’s loose argument and lack of testing The painting was later proved authentic, but Francesco Tiradritti believes that there is possibly another painting hidden underneath the geese that only time and careful analysis will reveal.5 

Villagers in the village of Sheikh Ibad, Egypt have produced sculptures, which were bought indirectly by the Brooklyn Museum, that were mistaken as authentic Coptic Art (art made in Egypt between 200-700 CE).6 Without considering issues of inheritance, it is crucial for museums to be aware that a good portion of the Coptic Art coming from this village are fakes.7 The main source of confusion surrounding authenticity of these objects, which the Brooklyn Museum and the Egyptian Museum fell for, is the backup material associated with the pieces of work. Taking the fake Coptic Art as an example, multiple scholars and organizations have claimed that they were real without any legitimate documentation to support their assertions.8 

Authentic Coptic Vase owned by the Brooklyn Museum
“Censer”. CC BY 3.0

However, having fake artifacts in a museum’s collection is not always a bad thing. Many museums have used the accidental purchases as an opportunity to speak on this issue, bringing awareness to their visitors and educating on the issue of forgery that is associated with artifacts related to the cultural heritage of the Middle East.9  


Sources

  1. Fake Egyptian antiquities
  2. Egypt’s Famous ‘Meidum Geese’ Painting May Be a Fake
  3. The Meidum Geese Are Not A Fake
  4. Egypt’s Famous ‘Meidum Geese’ Painting May Be a Fake
  5. Egypt’s Famous ‘Meidum Geese’ Painting May Be a Fake
  6. The Meidum Geese Are Not A Fake
  7. Brooklyn Museum and Fake Coptic Art
  8. Brooklyn Museum and Fake Coptic Art
  9. Brooklyn Museum and Fake Coptic Art

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