The Lie Became Great: The Forgery of Ancient near Eastern Cultures. (Reviews of Books)
Albenda, Pauline, The Journal of the American Oriental Society
The Lie Became Great: The Forgery of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures. By OSCAR WHITE MUSCARELLA. Groningen: STYX PUBLICATIONS, 2000. Pp. viii + 540, illus. HFI 250, $100.
This book is Muscarella's latest contribution to the research of forgeries that, according to the author, a field archaeologist who is affiliated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, have sabotaged the study of our history (p. 22). The book is notable for its revelations concerning the forgery problem, specifically the obvious and possible forgeries of ancient Near Eastern objects. Beyond the listing of forgeries and unexcavated objects, a goal of the present study is to articulate the relationship between scholarship and commerce that facilitates the success of the forgers. The book is divided into two sections: "Introduction and Polemic: The Forgery Culture," and "Catalogue." Footnotes, descriptions, and discussions of the illustrated and non-illustrated objects, as well as bibliography and abbreviations, furnish the sources and documentation that are required to substantiate the information regarding the respective objects, sometimes in support of the author's views and conclusions.
In his introduction, Muscarella states that to understand the forgery problem, one must understand the forgery culture and the collection culture. According to the author, both cultures share the same environments and personnel (p. 1). He asserts that the forgery culture is stratified and multi-faceted, and the systematic rules may be summarized in one sentence: "use all appropriate strategies to impede discussion and exposure of both the policies to acquire plundered art and the existence of forgeries" (p. 2). What follows is an extensive report on the two cultures, a product of the author's ("excavator's") investigation based on personal knowledge and experience. The report is presented as a series of anecdotes citing specific occurrences, but without naming the individuals, museums, or other institutions involved. The anecdotes demonstrate the range of the activities of the forgery culture, showing that museum staff and scholars constitute a large component. The reader must of course trust the veracity of the anecdotal events that oftentimes disclose the tactics used to support the forgery and collection cultures; further on in the text, however, individuals are singled out in connection with publications of artifacts ("forgeries") purchased and published as genuine (e.g., A. U. Pope, P. Amiet, R. Ghirshman). Here, bibliographical references are given; in addition, the reader is presented with detailed information in the notes. The range of information and published citations seems thorough and reinforces the extensive knowledge and investigative abilities that one attributes to the author.
Another component of the forgery culture is what Muscarella describes as "bazaar archaeological methodology," the acceptance of a dealer's claim that an object came from a named site. This leads to a forgery of provenience (history or proof of origin); it is the scholar, however, who creates the fiction of false provenience and assertions about authenticity of unexcavated objects by publishing or exhibiting them as genuine (p. 15). Furthermore, unexcavated objects published with forged proveniences may be accompanied by false historical, archaeological, or art-historical conclusions; the author lists illustrative examples. …