Many - probably most archaeologists set themselves above treasure hunters and metal detectorists. We are pure in thought, they claim. This is a lie, of course, as nobody is pure - that&undefined;s human nature.
Here is the start of an attempt to catalogue these hoaxes and frauds. Entries here will be linked to supporting pages containing more detail.
Piltdown man is one of the most famous frauds in the history of science. In 1912 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. Piltdown man, or Eoanthropus dawsoni to use his scientific name, was a sensation. He was the expected "missing link" a mixture of human and ape with the noble brow of Homo sapiens and a primitive jaw. Best of all, he was British!
As the years went by and new finds of ancient hominids were made, Piltdown man became an anomaly that didn&undefined;t fit in, a creature without a place in the human family tree. Finally, in 1953, the truth came out. Piltdown man was a hoax, the most ancient of people who never were.
The culprits? Staff of the British Museum.
Japanese Palaeolithic Hoax
The Japanese Paleolithic Hoax (旧石器捏造事件, Kyū Sekki Netsuzō Jiken?) consisted of a number of lower and middle paleolithic finds in Japan discovered by amateur archaeologist Fujimura Shinichi, which were later all discovered to have been faked. The incident became one of the biggest scandals in archaeological circles in Japan after the story was published by the Mainichi Shinbun in a morning edition article on November 5, 2000.
One of the &undefined;smoking gun&undefined; photographs that showed Fujimura burying artifacts
For finds from the Jōmon period or later, structures were originally made by digging below the then-current surface, causing changes in soil composition that make it much easier to discern fakes from real finds. The Paleolithic Hoax highlighted some of the shortcomings of Japanese archaeological research into paleolithic sites, such as an over-reliance on the dating of volcanic ash layers while ignoring other soil layers.
Secret of Drake hoax revealed after 70 years
Society&undefined;s prank on UC professor went awry
The last secret of one of the greatest historical hoaxes in the history of the West has finally been revealed -- it was a joke pulled on an eminent UC Berkeley professor by members of E Clampus Vitus, which describes itself as either a historical drinking society or a drinking historical society.
It involves the mysterious "Plate of Brasse" supposedly left by Sir Francis Drake in Marin County 424 years ago when he claimed what he called New Albion for England. The plate was discovered near San Quentin prison in 1936 and hailed by Professor Herbert Bolton as "one of the world&undefined;s long-lost treasures. " He called it authentic "beyond all reasonable doubt."
Bolton died in 1953, full of years and honors. The plate was accepted as genuine until 1977 when new tests showed it to be a forgery -- for one thing, the brass had been rolled in the 20th century, not the 16th. It was a huge embarrassment for the university and the historical community.
There was one last mystery: No one knew who was behind the hoax or why.
Now, four historians writing in the official magazine of the California Historical Society say they have figured it out -- the brass plate was a practical joke played on Bolton by several of his colleagues who were members of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus, an organization that mixed history with strong drink and jokes.
- San Francisco Chronicle
Welcome to an exciting exhibition! We worked with Robin Meador-Woodruff of the Kelsey Museum of Archeology to bring you this special exhibition of selected Egyptian artifacts -- both real and fake. In this exhibition, you&undefined;ll learn how and why museums come to acquire forgeries, and what we mean when we talk about different kinds of fakes. You&undefined;ll even have a chance to compare many of these forgeries with the genuine article.
KM 81.4.27. Figure of Girl in Swimming Posture
Wood. Length: 18.2 cm. New Kingdom (ca. 1550-1070 BC)
This cosmetic grinder (?), purporting to be an 18th Dynasty (1570-1293 BC) Egyptian artifact, was purchased by a private collector from a reputable auction house in 1956 and subsequently donated to the Kelsey Museum. It came into our collections in 1981, and was only discovered to be spurious in 1992 when Visiting Curator Edna R. Russman studied the piece more closely.
The Vinland Map
The map: "Vinland" is on the left edge
More doubt has been cast over a supposedly medieval map of America drawn up prior to the voyage of Christopher Columbus.
Many scientists believe the so-called Vinland Map, owned by Yale University and valued at $20m, is in fact a 20th Century fake.
I can&undefined;t see how it could have been done in the 15th century
Professor Robin Clark, University College London
Controversy has raged over the claim for the past 35 years.
And this week, experts from University College, London, UK, said that fresh analysis of the ink on the map added weight to this allegation.
Interestingly, their report was published at the same time as the details were released of a radiocarbon dating study of the parchment itself.
This shows that parchment at least is likely to be from the 15th Century, even if the actual map was drawn on much later.
Chinese Columbus Map
Antiquities collector Liu Gang unveiled this map in Beijing last week, saying it proves that Chinese seafarer Zheng He discovered America more than 70 years before Christopher Columbus set foot in the New World.
But cartographers and historians are casting doubt on the claim. One expert suggests that it could be a copy of a French world map dating to the 1600s.
Photograph by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
Fake map of Roman Britain
This extract appears to be a beautiful medieval map of Roman Britain. However, all is not as it seems.
In 1743, a copy of the map was sent to the antiquarian William Stukely by a student named Charles Bertram. The map was accompanied by a manuscript history of Britain. Stukely was fascinated by the map, believing it to be the work of a 14th century monk, Richard of Cirencester. The map seemed to provide a wealth of new historical information, such as previously unknown Roman place names. As a result, new Roman names such as Pennines (?Pennines Montes?) appeared on Ordinance Survey maps. It was not until the 1860s that the map was proven to be a fake. Both the map and the manuscript had been created in the 1700s, and were entirely invented.
A reproduction of the Zeno map from a 1793 book
The Zeno map refers to a map of the North Atlantic first published in 1558 in Venice by Nicolo Zeno, a descendant of a person by the same name, Nicolo Zeno, of the Zeno brothers.
The younger Zeno published the map, along with a series of letters, with the claim that he had discovered them in a storeroom in his family&undefined;s house in Venice. According to his claim, the map and letters were made around the year 1400 and purport to describe a voyage by the Zeno brothers made in the 1390s under the direction of a prince named Zichmni. The voyage supposedly traversed the North Atlantic and, according to some interpretations, reached North America.
Most historians today regard the map and accompanying narrative as a hoax, perpetrated by the younger Zeno to retroactively put forth a claim for Venice as having discovered the New World prior to Christopher Columbus.
The evidence against the authenticity of the map is based largely on the appearance of many non-existent islands in the North Atlantic and off the coast of Iceland. One of these islands was Frisland.
Current scholarship regards the map as being based on existing maps of the 16th century, in particular:
The James Ossuary is a sepulchral urn for containing bones, which was found in Israel in 2002 and was claimed to have been the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus. Its provenance is now in serious doubt, and it is considered a modern forgery. Its discovery was followed in January 2003 by another contentious archaeological "find" soon connected with Oded Golan, the so-called "Jehoash Inscription".
The James ossuary was on display at the Royal Ontario Museum from November 15, 2002 to January 5, 2003.
Close-up of the inscription. Carved in Aramaic. ?Ya&undefined;akov bar Yosef akhui di Yeshua.? English translation: ?James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.?