Apparently the terrible public events in the story really happened. Whether the supposed golden calf was real is another matter. According to the account given in the article there is good reason to doubt it. And prudence advises us to assume it wasn't unless other evidence, such as the actual artifact, surfaces.
Nevertheless, I would not entirely rule out the possibility that the object existed. A silver-plated bronze figurine of a calf (a bull) was discovered in Ashkelon. It dates to the sixteenth century BCE. You can see a photo here. Could the ancient Phoenicians at Malta have produced a similar object in gold or plated in gold? I doubt it. But maybe. (Cross-file under Phoenician Watch??)
Another intriguing possibility is that more recently someone produced a golden calf statuette based on the one in the biblical story. This then fell into the hands of the farmer Antonio Pace in Gozo. In 2017 I noted the apprehension of some smuggled artifacts in Turkey. They included gold and lead (?) codices of the same type as the Jordanian lead codices. There was also a miniature golden calf. Photo at the link. For reasons explained there, the Turkish objects look to me to be relatively modern attempts at producing ancient-looking artifacts. Could someone have hidden one in Malta sometime before 1729? I doubt it. But maybe.
This is just speculation for entertainment. Again, in the absence of verification, I disbelieve that Antonio Pace had a golden calf.
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