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Being Aware of Fake Archaeological Artefacts

By: Grahame Johnston - Updated: 10 Aug 2019 | comments*Discuss
Fake Archaeological Artefacts Museum

Fake archaeological artefacts have flooded the marketplace. They can be so convincing that they are unknowingly displayed in museums, even the most respected collectors buy them, and they are often sold for thousands of times their value.

Some analysts believe that 90% of all the artefacts and coins sold on internet auctions as genuine are nothing but fakes. There are three kinds of objects in the world of archaeological artefacts.

Relic, Replica or Fake

Relic: This is the true original object that has survived in whole or in part from some time in the ancient past. It is an item of interest because it is an object made by or altered by ancient humans in the context of their daily lives.

Replica: This is a reproduction of the original relic in order to duplicate it for open and honest purposes. It is always named as a reproduction, replica, or duplicate. Such duplicates are made where the original is very rare and replacement is impossible. Reproductions of an ancient relic permit it to be displayed at more than one location or to be handled by the public.

Fake: Often referred to as an artefake, it is a replica of an original artefact made with the sole purpose of deceiving others into believing it to be an original relic. Fake artefacts usually have elaborate aging techniques performed on them to make them very difficult to detect.

Why Make Fakes?

Owning and collecting the artefacts of history has been a strong yearning for many people. The relative rarity of genuine relics makes the kudos of owning one even greater. Authentic items are scarce and very expensive. Forgers have taken advantage of the worldwide hunger for genuine artefacts by recreating them in every way as much like the original as possible so as to dupe buyers and make grand profits.

Cunningly Crafted

A good artefact forger is a professional craftsman as the skills required are sophisticated and exacting.

Original artefacts are carefully studied and if possible a mould or model may be made of it. In the case of bronze items, they will, after being cast, be deliberately aged to resemble originals. This might include altering the surface by applying chemicals and burying the object for a time in manure. This will create a patina that is often difficult to detect as being newly made.

Ancient coins are often reproduced, by the score, in moulds made from original coins. Wooden objects are covered with food and left out side for birds to peck at, then buried in termite nests to rapidly form ‘old borer holes’.

Flintstones are broken up in modern times by flint knappers who reproduce the same ‘ancient tools’ of the lithic period and pass them on as genuine.


Artefact forgers know that there are few collectors and even museums that can afford the costly testing required to prove that an artefact is genuine or not.

Experts who, for many years, have thoroughly studied original objects can often sense a forgery. However, not every counterfeit item can be detected by sight alone. Scientists have risen to the challenge of artefact authentication by developing more effective testing methods.

Apart from the great cost of having an object scientifically authenticated is the damage that it can do to the item itself. In many tests the method will require material from the artefact to be removed for analysis. Naturally, most collectors and museums do not want their valuable objects damaged or disfigured and they are never verified. Therefore, only highly important or very valuable objects are usually ever tested.

There are now a number of testing methods available to authenticate ancient relics:

  • X-ray Diffraction. X-rays can see into the object and reveal what it is made of. The x-ray diffraction method sends high energy x-rays into the material that bounce off internal crystals in a particular pattern. By comparing these diffraction patterns to known patterns of genuine relics, analysts can determine an object’s authentic age.

  • Pigment Analysis. The composition of the colours of paint used in ceramics, mosaics, paintings, writings and architecture have changed throughout history. An artefact cannot contain a pigment type that was not developed in its day and can therefore be exposed as fake.

  • Radiocarbon Dating. This method can be used on organic materials or objects with organic residue or componentry. The technique requires some of the object to be destroyed in the testing process but relatively accurate ages can be established if the object has remained sound and dry.

  • Atomic Absorption Spectrometry. Different elements burn with a different colour of flame. AAS testing uses this theory and scientists can observe the controlled burning of portions of the object. If a flame colour reveals that the object contains an element not found in original relics then the item can be discounted as a forgery.

Notable Fakes

Heinrick Schliemann is charged with manufacturing the famed golden Mask of Agamemnon. This mask is superior in quality to others found and has a peculiar nineteenth century looking moustache on what should be a four thousand year old relic.

A sophisticated forgery ring, including respected collectors and registered antiques dealers, made and sold hundreds of ‘ancient’ artefacts over the last twenty years that were not antiquities at all. They used refined methods to age items and convinced scholars, museums, and scientists across the world that their discoveries were genuine. Some of the forgeries included an ivory pomegranate said to be the only relic of the Solomonic era, a burial ossuary believed to have held the bones of James the brother of Jesus, and stone tablets that describe how the temple was to be maintained.

Fake Collectors

Amusingly, some collectors only want to collect fakes. There are even museums that display only ‘prize forgeries’ in their collections. However, it should be noted that these objects are displayed as items that were once fakes and their owners are not attempted to deceive anyone. Once a fake is exposed it is no longer a forgery but a known reproduction. The museums use these items for the educative purpose that replicas are meant for.

As long as there continues to be a desire to hold and own relics of antiquity there will be others equal to the task of forging them. If a 4000-year-old pottery jug starts selling at 50p on an internet auction, the chances are very high it is not genuine.

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Very much informative post in India there r many sites where you get lots of artifact a genuine one at reasonable rates quantity is substantial but it's illegal to hold such ancient artifact in India , there are very few who collects this material henceseller sell at very cheap rate. I agree that on line sellersell fakes at cheap rates but it's not necessary that all sell fakes and all which has low price are fakesyou get genuine things at very reasonable price in Indian market .
Ganesh - 10-Aug-19 @ 1:28 PM
there's also alot of ancient stuff being unearthed , lots maybe that is why, but it is what you believe that really truly matters ee
Eric Gieseke - 24-Apr-19 @ 8:41 PM
I worked at a small family run restaurant for almost 12 years. During that time, I accumulated many"regulars".An elderly gentleman began coming in, and quickly became one of my favorite regulars. During our chats, I learned he had been a helicopter pilot since age 17. He mentioned several well known names, and had photographs to validate his tales. His son was very successful, but lived in another country, due to his line of work. He came to visit his father quite regularly, considering the distance. His son further validated the stories, with his own input during the course of conversation. The old gent sorely missed his pilot days, but was forced to retire, basically because of the curves age throws our way. We once discussed several excavations he'd been involved in, when he transported the people involved, to and from their hotels. These were my favorite cconversations, mainly because I had always been interested in archaeology, and in fact had dreamed of becoming an archeologist, which I confided to him. A few weeks later, he brought in 3 items , he claimed were 5,000 plus years old. I was very surprised when he told me he was giving them to me, and not just showing them to me. I had no reason to doubt their validity, as I had come to know him, and never found him to lie or exaggerate. His son came in to tell me his father had passed away. I cried, and was very sentimental about the"artifacts" he had given me. That was about 12 years ago, and now my situation has changed... A lot ! I have made arrangements to sell the items, but am having some doubts now. The oil lamp has me especially nervous. I have seen forgeries of it online, so am now unsure. I can't fathom the old gent purposely lying about their age, and consider he may have been duped himself. My "buyer" believes them all to be authentic, but only has my word and some photos I sent. He will be in town mid November. Is there any way to know for sure, other than carbon dating, which I can't afford. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I appreciate any advice you may be able to give me.
George - 13-Oct-18 @ 8:48 PM
Im looking intoa small statue of Romulus and Remus possibly 8 inches wide and 6 inches long. its looks like it made of Marble some places are cracked. The 2 brothers shape underneath are not very clear and the craftsman ship is primitive. the wolf itself has the shape of a hippopotamus . on the side of the marble platform I think I can hardly read it but the carved word is: TOANTOOA other than that I still have my doubts not sure if I can afford any kin of testing.
Xndrdgr8 - 8-Aug-18 @ 12:19 AM
I have inca pottery I know is authentic and want to sell it. Where can I take it for some sort of authentication, and how do I find out how much it sells for? Thank you!
mary - 4-Jun-18 @ 5:16 PM
Can they fake letters of authenticity??They do come with some pieces.
Jim - 19-Mar-18 @ 11:23 PM
Now you have me looking at everything I bought and believed then authentic.I'm looking at hammer marks.A silver "roman" ring does.Checking everything.I to had my doubts.Why shipped from Thailand?Where the legions that clumsy.
Jim - 19-Mar-18 @ 9:32 PM
With the the purchase of fakes not only the buyers are deceived, indirectly they support these fake sellers. The market for fakes is booming and the buyers of these counterfeits are not entirely innocent. The counterfeiters supply what the market asks. Simple commercial rule: the demand determines the offer. On the same website (ebay) are sold replicas and some clicks later from untrustworthy sellers offered as genuine. Legionary rings produced in Yugoslavia, Serbia, Bulgaria, are flooding the market. These forgeries offered over middle-men in the USA, UK and also France, sometimes Germany, often reach fantasy prices. Legion rings are very rarely preserved. No week passed without legion rings  and as far as I remember, only two of them (offered 2015 and 2016) were genuine. Obviously we need to rewrite history. The Roman Empire was limited only to the Serbian and Romanian territory. And the complete leadership of the Roman Empire including all (I think 30) legions and their higher ranks lost their rings on this territory. No one has ever wondered where the many silver and gold rings came from. Why the bronze rings suddenly have all the visible engravings and why the sellers know exactly what the engraving means. Of course, all in perfect condition.The extraordinary pieces were without exception all recently found in Serbia / Yugoslavia /Bulgaria and now can be sold thanks God to the appreciative crowd. Gold only pure, ie 24 ct. although massive golden objects with very high purity have existed only since the 19th century. For example:  the Celts promoted mainly river gold, not mountain gold .  There are probably gold sand (goldflittchen) from rivers, which reach a purity of over 90%, but that's more the exception. Last but not least. Lately, Afghan trinkets, Islamic rings, pendants, gold beads, are offered on ebay as Tudor, Queen Anne and Roman artifacts. Bronze, silver, gold plated and gold. But all have in common, they are certainly neither Tudor, Queen Anne, Roman, Celtic or Viking. The source of supply is Thailand. Fighting fake seller is like fighting the hydra. There are many dedicated fake forums that do this sisyphos work. Chris
Chris - 13-Jun-17 @ 6:49 PM
I looked at ancient gold rings on eBay today! And was amazed at the amount of cheap so called ancient rings, mainly guided monstrous looking fakes,so many and from U.K. I used to enjoy looking at this section, it's ruined now! I think the sellers build their own feedback as looking at the previous bids they were all private!!!!!
coprop - 23-Feb-17 @ 4:46 PM
Not all eBay rings and jewelery are fake! But there are still ways you can tell them apart! A genuine ring will have hammer marks The underside back won't be smooth The engravings on fakes are cut with diamond cutter and not by hand! You can tell the difference! There are other clues aswell!
coprop - 21-Nov-16 @ 8:58 PM
I got to know a person who claimed that he has got a Bible from Syria, and that Bible was written before 1800 years ago, and he is wanting to sell it. If I will get the book in the UK, how and where I can get to know that it is not fake? In case it is relic, how can he sell it? Best regards
Alaa - 31-Aug-16 @ 12:47 AM
I wonder also at the so called ancient bronze rings. They could be fake or real.
catring - 12-Mar-16 @ 8:09 PM
I am new in the gem trade and was shopping for rough gem stones with a friend when I was secretly offered this Asian looking sculpture of a Asian man with a scroll and animals on him buy a private guy he said that it was discovered several feets away under the soil under a slab of a semi gem stone. I have questions logically but am not an expert. It's a private collection of a local leader who offers it to me for what I believe to be too high a cost for a beautiful carving. I can send you pictures from my phone. If I have an email to send it to. I told him I would be interested but needs to check.
Rote - 20-Oct-15 @ 1:50 PM
it could easily be genuine. its a buyers market out there for low grade artefacts and there are many being found.
tavildara - 14-Jul-15 @ 4:37 PM
Hi, I was very excited yesterday when I won an ancient roman ring at auction, in the final 3 minutes!I cost me just £3.00!Its from a well reviewed seller, with a shop, and all seems genuine.Its a chunky piece with a faded engraving - but I just wonder how I can get a genuine piece from Ancient Rome for just £3.00!I notice there are many others on Ebay atsimilar prices too!Why is this?I'm due to receive it in about 3 days and can't wait to see and wear it - but could it be a fake?? Thanks Sarah
Sarita - 6-Jul-15 @ 2:57 PM
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