luxury

Scores of Middle East clay antiques found to be fake

Published 5th May 2020
The shipment was opened at London Heathrow Airport.
Credit: Trustees of the British Museum
Scores of Middle East clay antiques found to be fake
Written by Jack Guy, CNN
Antiquities experts are always on the lookout for fake artifacts, but one haul analyzed by staff at the British Museum took the biscuit.
Two metal trunks shipped from Bahrain to the UK were opened by Border Force officers at Heathrow Airport in July.
Officers found up to 190 objects which appeared to be clay tablets, figurines and pots from Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq, dating between about 2000 BC and 500 BC.
But the shipment quickly raised suspicions as experts from the British Museum analyzed the pieces.
There was an almost complete range of cuneiform tablets known to have been used in ancient Mesopotamia, said the museum in a press release Tuesday.
The tablets were all made from the same kind of clay fired at high temperatures.
The tablets were all made from the same kind of clay fired at high temperatures. Credit: Trustees of the British Museum
Cuneiform was one of the earliest systems of writing and Mesopotamia was an ancient region located in the eastern Mediterranean.
"It was as if the whole genre of ancient Mesopotamian writing was represented in one shipment: an entire collection ready for a single uninformed buyer," a statement from the museum read.
"But it was immediately clear that there was a problem; not one of the objects was ancient."
While some of the tablets were covered in real inscriptions, others were nonsensical when read.
Each of the tablets was made from a similar type of clay, which would be impossible if they were real, said the museum.
The shipment also included a number of figurines.
The shipment also included a number of figurines. Credit: Trustees of the British Museum
Another sign of forgery was the fact that they had been fired consistently and at temperatures achieved in modern kilns. If they were real, they would have been dried in the sun, said the museum.
Fake tablets have been around for 200 years, but these ones come from a new production line, said the museum.
"These seizures confirm an emerging trend: capitalising on interest in the purchase of antiquities, unscrupulous traders are faking Middle Eastern objects for sale," St John Simpson, curator at the museum, said in a statement.
"It seems very likely that more trunks of fakes are out there, that there are more fakes than there are genuine objects. Consignments which are almost too perfect to believe should be treated with great caution."
While experts do not know where they were made, they say the workshop is likely in the Middle East.
Richard Nixon, Border Force Heathrow senior officer, said organized crime gangs are usually the drivers behind the counterfeit trade.
The tablets were likely marketed to an unsuspecting buyer with a price tag of thousands of pounds, the museum said.
The items will now be used for teaching and training purposes. Some will even be displayed at the British Museum when it reopens.