Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Late antique Mandean amulets?

MANDEAN (MANDAEAN) WATCH: Magical amulet decoded. It protected owner from blood-sucking spirits (Owen Jarus, Live Science).

Potentially this is an important discovery. But I see reasons for caution. Centre College Professor Emeritus Tom McCollough presented the discovery at a recent online conference. The article reports that Centre College bought the amulets in 2009 on the basis of photographic evidence that their original purchase was in the 1950s. That would mean they are fair game for publication, unlike more recently looted artifacts from Iraq.

But these photos were not shown to the Live Science reporter. Nor are there photographs of the three amulets. Their early date is based on the evaluation of corrosion on the objects, which sounds subjective to me. Similar evaluations were advanced for an early dating of the Jordanian lead codices. My understanding is that it is difficult to use metallurgy to date such objects as far back as antiquity. But that is not my field. I defer to experts in the area.

It is entirely possible that this is a legitimate and important discovery. Professor McCollough is an expert in ancient amulets and would not be fooled easily. At the same time, I reserve judgement on both the authenticity and the early dating of the amulets, pending the publication of good photos of them, their decipherment in a peer-review journal, the release of the documentation on their original acquisition, and publication of full reports on the metallurgical analysis used to date them. Preferably, they should also be tested by an independent lab. Once all that is out there, specialists in the various areas can evaluate the credibility of the claims.

I hope the amulets can be authenticated as real ancient artifacts. Let's keep an eye on this story.

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