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Returned Persian Artifact Believed to be Fake

Posted on Oct, 31, 2013
Contributed to WCHV by Danielle

cupAs reported by many news outlets as well as our WCHV a few weeks ago a Persian artifact believed at that time to be dated 700 BC, was returned by the US government to the Iranian government as a symbol of good will and a sign that perhaps the tense political relations between the two countries are changing. However, the recent publication by a retired Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Oscar White Muscarella clearly demonstrates that the artifact is fake (as reported by New Network Archeology).

In fact, it looks like that the artifact cannot be older than a couple of decades or even newer.  It has also been reported that the artifact was sold in 2002 to a wealthy New York Collector who was also given proof of authenticity by three prominent art dealers.  The rest of the story has been known to many: When the artifact arrived in NYC in 2003, it was confiscated and then stored away in a government warehouse for over a decade. Mr. Muscarella who has made these new claims has only seen a photograph of the artifact but is convinced that the item is fake. 

The structure of the artifact includes silver sections joined together to form a winged griffin that walks on splayed, clawed feet. Most improbable are three funnels (as suggested by Muscarella), two on the sides coming out of the body below the wings and one that protrudes the creature’s rear end. Muscarella went on to say: “The vessel has been consistently labeled a rhyton in print, but this would be correct only if the creature’s open mouth served as a pouring spout for liquids poured into the funnels (wine, water, body wastes?). It is a modern Iranian artifact.  For stylistic and technical reasons — the griffin’s head is frozen mute, its eyes stare, the head, wing and leg patterns are awkward and meaningless, and the leg rivets are modern: all attributes unlike any ancient conception — I condemned it as a forgery.”  

Now, there are still many questions and concerns to be addressed. Smuggling historical artifacts and national heritage is profitable and for smugglers who take great risk to take the pieces out of the original countries, there will always be a wealthy buyer somewhere across the world. The questions in this case are many: Who the original smuggler was (were) and how they managed to create a fake item and then smuggle it out of Iran to Switzerland and then sell it to an American buyer? In addition, how did three supposed experts actually authenticate the item in 2002?  

The main major question for us is how we could stop many more acts of smuggling of national heritage pieces that result in loss and in many cases the destruction of these beautiful artifacts from around the world.

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