Friday, September 14, 2018

How to spot cuneiform forgeries

THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST TODAY: How to Spot Fake Cuneiform Tablets (Sara Brumfield).
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.
I am surprised to hear this. My impression has always been that it was quite difficult to make convincing forgeries of cuneiform tablets. Indeed, the ASOR Policy on Professional Conduct makes an exception regarding the publishing of unprovenanced cuneiform inscriptions, in part because "cuneiform texts may be authenticated more readily than other categories of epigraphic archaeological heritage" (section E5b)

It is, of course, easy to make clay tablets that vaguely resemble cuneiform tablets and which have nonsense fake cuneiform writing on them, but these would not fool a specialist. It requires years of expensive specialized training to be able to read cuneiform tablets, let alone fake them convincingly. But apparently there are enough trained people ready to forge them that this is problem in the field. This is disquieting.

In this article, Dr. Brumfield gives even nonspecialists some tools for spotting fake cuneiform tablets. So cross-file under News You Can Use.

I hope forgers will not read her article, but I fear they may.

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