Tuesday 11 September 2018

How to Spot Fake Cuneiform Tablets and why they are Important

If it has a COA, it must be real
It turns out that many cunies, even in museum collections, are fakes (Sara Brumfield, 'How to Spot Fake Cuneiform Tablets, ASOR)
By 1904, during the early period of cuneiform tablet collecting, J. Edgar Banks, a Mesopotamian explorer and tablet dealer, estimated that nearly 80% of tablets offered for sale in Baghdad were fakes. In 2016, Syria’s Director General for Antiquities and Museums reported that approximately 70% of seized artifacts in the country are fakes. And with the continuing conflict in the Middle East, there is no reason to believe that the proliferation of fake artifacts will subside. Because cuneiform tablets can be relatively easy to make but relatively difficult to detect, there is a clear incentive for forgers to continue producing large quantities. The effects of this long tradition of forgery are already deeply rooted. Fake tablets have found their way into nearly every major collection and many small, private collections around the world.
Obviously the fake ones, if taken for real, would falsify the historical record, misleading the academy and the public alike. Brumfield discusses why we should not just ignore the problem, having sorted out which cunis are real and which ones fake.
Shouldn’t fakes just be ignored, discarded or destroyed? Why bother identifying them? These ideas stem from the notion that fake artifacts don’t represent history. But in fact they just represent a different history. A fake cuneiform tablet may not tell us authentic information about Mesopotamian society, economy or worldview, but it may help tell the story of a conflict zone, oppression and criminal organizations. Conflict makes smuggling across borders easier and drives demand for ancient tablets—both illicit and excavated. This increased demand for tablets thus promotes looting and forging. The cycle continues.

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