Marcel Marée was trained as an Egyptologist at Leiden University (Netherlands) and has been Assistant Keeper at the Department of Ancient Egypt & Sudan in the British Museum since 2000. He specialises in Egypt’s art and social history, with a particular interest in artistic production and sculpture workshops. For many years he has been Deputy Director of the BM’s archaeological fieldwork in rock tombs at Edfu and Elkab in Upper Egypt, focusing on tombs from the 17th–16th centuries BC. He also works with the Austrian archaeological mission at Tell el-Dab’a in the Nile Delta (recording ancient seal impressions), and with the Swiss Archaeological Institute in Aswan (documenting rock inscriptions). He is well acquainted with the trade in Egyptian antiquities and this currently sees him leading a project called ‘Circulating Artefacts’. The project will see the creation of an online platform documenting Egyptian objects in the trade and in private ownership.
Missed and underrated criteria for authenticating Egyptian artefacts
In judging an object’s authenticity, all experts put faith in their stylistic intuitions. Alas, the reliability of these intuitions is only proportionate to the volume of the judge’s knowledge, eye to detail, memory for parallels, and awareness of exceptions. Not every well-executed piece is ancient, not every mediocre one is modern. Unparalleled features to an object do not inevitably condemn it. The parameters by which we must assess a piece are subtle, complex and numerous. Even scientific analysis of the techniques that shaped an object can lead, at times, to the wrong conclusion. To help us spot the most challenging fakes, are there any straightforward criteria at all?
In Egyptology and elsewhere, there is a need for greater lucidity and consistency in the methods we use to authenticate unprovenanced works. No theoretical framework could make us wholly immune to error, but many vital points of consideration are insufficiently recognised and should find much wider application. The purpose of this richly illustrated talk is to raise awareness of the basic criteria and to show how, if routinely borne in mind, they can make all the difference in detecting a forgery. Many a fake would not have been purchased, displayed and cited in research if these criteria had been borne in mind – and many a true antiquity will not be denounced or neglected too readily.