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    The trade in fake antiquities is reported on today in the British Museum blog. St John Simpson, Assistant Keeper of the Middle East Department at the museum, recounts a story of trunks consigned from Bahrain to an address in the UK being opened at Heathrow last year. Filled with objects that seemed to have originated in ancient Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) and dating to 2000BC to 500 BC the cuneiform tablets represented a virtually complete range of basic types known. These range from school texts for trainee scribes, administrative texts, royal inscriptions, mathematical texts and others resembling official documents from temples and public buildings. There was also an inscribed amulet resembling a unique example excavated at the Late Assyrian capital of Nimrud.

    Not one of them was ancient. The clay was all of a similar type, a clue to the fakery, and had been fired in a kiln, proving they came from a modern workshop. Not all the writing made sense and it was the wrong kind of clay for tablets that would have been simply sun dried. Not long after this two more trunks arrived at Heathrow with figurines and animal pottery vessels. “It immediately confirmed our suspicions and made us realise that there are surely more trunks of fakes somewhere out there…” Simpson writes.

    Chillingly he cites this as evidence for a side of the trade in antiquities which is rarely discussed – there are more fakes in circulation than genuine articles. “Faking tablets has been known for over 200 years and they began to appear even before cuneiform had been deciphered. However, this is the first time that we have seen fakes of this particular type – this is a new production line aimed at private individuals with little or no knowledge of the originals”. Caveat emptor.

    A selection of fake figurines. ©Trustees of the British Museum 2020.

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