Thursday 11 February 2021

Another 1990s fake in the British Museum

BM Britain, Europe and Prehistory Department Accession number 1990,0501.2 1990,0501.2 

Bronze bucket mount with crude ox head. Possible modern copy.
Cultures/periods Iron Age
Findspot Found/Acquired: England (north?)
Purchased from: Lord Alistair McAlpine
Materials copper alloy
Dimensions Length: 34 millimetres
Curator's comments
A group of vessel fittings formerly in the collection of Lord McAlpine were acquired by the British Museum in the late 1980s to early 1990s (1988,1206.1, 1990,0501.1-3, 1990,0602.1). Similar pieces were also acquired from a different source (1990,1006.1-2, 1991,0603.1). Since that time, there has been some debate over the authenticity of some of these pieces.

Rebecca Ellis studied this object in 2021 as part of her PhD, ‘Animals and Humans in La Tène Art in England and Wales’, University of Hull. She comments:

This vessel mount is much narrower and longer in the overall bovine head shape than the other fittings in this group, a feature which can be paralleled in other bovine fittings such as PAS ID IOW-2CAEF7 and HESH-C96C96. However, this item also has identical eyes to 1990,0501.1-2, 1990,1006.1 and 1991,0603.1. The bronze finish is also unusually smooth, with lost definition. The open mouth loop is extremely unusual and is only paralleled by one object, which also happens to parallel the narrowness of the head shape: a vessel fitting discovered at Corbridge, Northumberland (Macgregor 1976, 314). The mouth shape of 1990,1006.2 does not match this totally, however, and is closer to the Ram vessel fitting from Harpenden (Stead 1996, 60; Jope 2000 Pl. 170). The combination of elements from these two finds causes further doubt on the authenticity of this item. Therefore, it is unlikely that this item is a genuine Iron Age/Romano-British find; it is more likely a modern copy inspired by two pre-existing published finds.

Jope, E. M. 2000. Early Celtic Art in the British Isles. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Stead, I. M. 1996. Celtic Art in Britain before the Roman Conquest. London: British Museum Press.
Location Not on display

Thwe question is, what kind of a respectable institution would be buying from any dealer any object where the only provenence and collectibng history is: "Findspot Found/Acquired: England (north?)".


Philip said...

Well, they didn't buy it from a dealer, did they? It came with the McAlpine collection which from memory included large quantities of the so-called Salisbury hoard - I don't have access to the book that Ian Stead wrote about it at the moment, but wasn't there some element of compulsory acquisition when the Salisbury material was found to be illegally excavated? Maybe I've remembered that wrongly but it's not true to say that the BM bought this from a dealer. And one could argue that it's useful to have this particular piece in the national (or indeed a major regional) collection where it can be referenced in the future, if and when another fake turns up.

Paul Barford said...

I too remember the Stead book, and got the impression that part of the Salibury Hoard passed through the McAlpine collection. Perhaps I was confusing him with Bruce McAlpine. Anyway, McAlpine presumably got it from somewhere with that "provenance".

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