The Non-Fraud of the Middle Bronze Age Stone Goddess from Ustica: A Reverse Piltdown Hoax. (News & Notes)

By Lukesh, Susan S.; Holloway, R. Ross | Antiquity, December 2002 | Go to article overview

The Non-Fraud of the Middle Bronze Age Stone Goddess from Ustica: A Reverse Piltdown Hoax. (News & Notes)


Lukesh, Susan S., Holloway, R. Ross, Antiquity


In 1913, Charles Dawson discovered the first of two skulls found in the Piltdown quarry in Sussex, England, skulls of an apparently primitive hominid, an ancestor of man. The Piltdown Man, as he became known, constitutes perhaps the greatest scientific fraud of the last century (Turrittin n.d. (site accessed 28 December 2001); Harter n.d.). It was not until 1953, and after an estimated 500 articles and books were written about the remains, that the two skulls were declared frauds. Countless articles and books have been written since, purporting to unmask the perpetrators and to understand the why of their deception. There is no definitive answer. Numerous reasons have been suggested for such scientific frauds: student high jinks (such as the recently reported Runestone Fakery in Minnesota, supported by an elaborate web site, http:/ /www.runestonemuseum.org/runestone.htm), the lure of creating evidence to support one's theories, the money to be gained from gullible collectors, and vanity, the chance to enhance one's own reputation or to damage another's. One consequence of the Piltdown hoax, though possibly not its original purpose, was to put a cloud over the career of Sir Arthur Smith-Woodard, Keeper of Geology of the British Museum (Natural History). It still remains uncertain why the Piltdown Man skulls were faked, or by whom, although in the climate of discovery and debate related to the antiquity of man in the later 19th and early 20th centuries the time was ripe for the faker to appear. That the hoax was not unmasked for some 40 years strengthened the hand of those who denied any relationship between man and the other primates and thus was detrimental to the advancement of science.

Archaeological fraud-did not begin or end at Piltdown. Although different in many ways from the Piltdown Man hoax, a late 20th-century fraud, perpetuated on the small island of Ustica (north of Palermo, Sicily), demonstrates that archaeological hoaxing will continue as long as someone finds reasons to do so, even if it means denying the heritage of one's own country. The fraud we discuss here was not perpetrated to bolster a theory, to enhance a professional-reputation or to deceive a collector. Its purpose was to discredit professional reputations, and those responsible for it were willing to sacrifice the first stone sculpture of the Middle Bronze Age found on the Italian mainland or in Sicily to reach their goal. This important discovery would then be consigned to the same fate as the Piltdown skulls and the archaeologists who reported it would be labelled incompetent dupes.

The statue, preserved height 22 cm, was discovered on the morning of 21 May 1991 (FIGURE 1). The trench in which the statue was discovered in two fragments, well separated from each other, was under the constant supervision of a member of the excavation staff. The field director (RRH) was present on the site as well (Holloway & Lukesh 1995; 2001). The details of the discovery have been published in full, but we must emphasize that the statue was found only after 23 cm of earth had been removed on that very morning from the stratum over it and that there was no indication of any recent disturbance to this layer. Because of its unique nature, a report was made quickly in Sicilia Archeologica (Holloway 1991). During the days immediately after the find, one of the local antiquarians of the island was permitted to examine the statue, which he did with some care.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

While attending the First Congress of Sicilian Prehistory at Corleone in July of 1997, we were surreptitiously handed a pamphlet on the archaeology of Ustica whose author, Giovanni Mannino, is a retired excavation assistant of the Superintendency of Cultural Property of the Province of Palermo (Mannino 1997a). It was at the invitation of the then Superintendent, Dr Carmela Angela De Stefano, that the authors of this paper were conducting the excavations on the island as External Collaborators of the Superintendency. …

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