“Thieves of time”- a short story about Paleolithic Fakes and Fogeries: A questionable Chatelperronian knife

fake

This artifact was sold during an internet auction about 10 years ago as an authentic “Chatelperronian Point” from the type site.

The anthropologist Kenneth Tankersley in his readable book about Ice age Americans once called forgers: “Thieves of time”—

–And time is something very precious…

Most archaeological forgeries are made for reasons similar to art forgeries – for financial gain. The monetary value of an item that is thought to be thousands of years old is higher than if the item were sold as a souvenir. Today some high grade handaxes from France or a large Solutrean Leafpoints may be sold at prices between 10-20000 EUR, while dealers in antiquities may realize a price between 1000-2000 EUR for finly worked Acheulian handaxes 

Faking Paleolithic artifacts started well before their official recognition in 1859, when Boucher de Perthes bought a lot of authentic but also fraudulent handaxes from the local quarry workers at Abbeville. To make the things worse he promised a reward of 200 francs if handaxes and human remains were found in the same geological position. Soon after, in 1863, the workers in the Moulin Quignon “discovered”  a portion of a modern human jaw and several handaxes which, they claimed derived from one and the same stratum, but were forgeries.

The fraud became apparent, when English Geologists and Archaeologists noticed the “fresh” and non-patinated appearance of these handaxes, which pointed to a very recent date of their production. Handaxes from other sites in the Somme valley and from England did not look like that-they usually exhibited a thick patination.

Beyond patination, the signs of re-working, re-sharpening, signs of use, were found to be important for artifactual evaluation. Moreover, style, dimension, raw material, the extent of retouch, signs of renovation and hafting and the presence or absence of mineral debris also proved to be crucial for judgment over artifact-authenticity.

During the following years, the trade in forgeries grew up alongside Palaeolithic research and by the interest of prestigious museums for Stone Age artifacts. On the other hand this development also directed closer attention to flaking technology and characteristics of age such as wear, staining and patination. Cottage industries for such fakes were founded in Northern France, Belgium and the Dordogne, where it was normal to be plagued by sellers, who offered forgeries in the streets of Les Eyzies to tourists, when I visited the Dordogne for the first time in 1974. Later, this production shifted mainly to internet auctions, with little control over the authenticity of artifacts for the bidders.

The clumsy backed patinated 11 cm long flake labelled with “Chatelperron”, which is shown in this post, was selled during an internet auction for ca 150 EUR. An amazing price if the artifact would be authentic!  Chatelperronian points in private collections are a rarity. The artifact does not look like a Chatelperronian point and the raw material at the site is quite different (http://www.paleoanthro.org/static/journal/content/PA20080001.pdf). The artifact may be authentic (Neolithic?), but certainly not of early upper Paleolithic age and not from the Grotte des Fees. There are a lot of examples of fakers combining an authentic artifact and a fraudulent attribution: Tenerian leaf points are offered for Solutrean ones, Handaxes from the Sahara are said to be from the Perigord, backed pieces from the Capsian mutate to Gravette points…..

But there are even more perkily strategies: Non- patinated “perfect” Handaxes and large “Quina” scrapers are sold for authentic ones at ridiculous prices. Patination is difficult, but not impossible, to duplicate. Since the 19th century, several methods of artificial patination, leading usually to a rough shallow white patina, were used. Some of the more advanced techniques produce an “ebony” or “miel foncé”  like patination, which is almost perfect. Several mechanic methods and staining liquids may be used to help to add a fake patina and most of the modern sophisticated techniques remain a well-kept secret. Many of this “internet-items” are said to come from “Bergerac” or the “Dordogne”, even if the raw material does not fit to any of these locations. Often, dozens of such artifacts, those shape is as perfect as the “best” examples in textbooks are sold together with some really authentic ones, which makes any differentiation “by eye” even more difficult.

However, archaeological  forgers may have other motives; they may try to manufacture proof for their point of view or favorite theory (or against a point of view/theory they dislike), or to gain increased fame and prestige for themselves. An excellent example is the case of Shinichi Fujimura, an amateur prehistorian. Beginning in the 1980s and continuing until the year 2000, Fujimura was planting ancient artifacts from other Asian countries in Japanese sites to make it seem that Japan had a more extensive prehistory. Because of Japan’s national pride in these discoveries, no one questioned the validity of the finds as they accumulated for twenty years http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinichi_Fujimura

Beyond Nationalism, other ideologies such as religious reasons can be strong stimuli for an archaeological hoax. The archaeology of the “holy land” is constantly at risk for ideological purposes-but fortunately the Paleolithic is beyond the religious time frame of these hoaxers.

The last picture shows, as a compensation for the first one, an authentic 9 cm long burin from the Combe Chapelle site in the Dordogne. This artifact shows the correct style of an upper Paleolithic burin, a nice patina, raw material, that is known to have been used   at the site (imported from the Bergerac region) and the old label made by D. Peyronie’s own hand.

original peyrony

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome! About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University. Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.
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5 Responses to “Thieves of time”- a short story about Paleolithic Fakes and Fogeries: A questionable Chatelperronian knife

  1. hello
    i greatly appreciate the time you take to create this excellent ‘blog’

    one this i could add is that although a lot paleolithic axes are heavily patenated the boxgrove handaxes are as fresh as the day they were born.

    col

  2. Katzman says:

    I agree- a missing patina is never the proof for a fraud- but the Boxgrove hand-axes are in many ways really unique in the worldwide Paleolithic Archaeological report…

  3. Paul Taylor says:

    So why hasn’t anyone called into question the authenticity of the Boxgrove flint tools?
    Is the Taphonomy so different? Can fraud or systematic error be ruled out completely for Boxgrove? After all you can’t date flint tools by laboratory methods, only by “type” and that’s not very satisfactory/scientific. Do the circumstances of the finds rule out fraud/error. And are we certain of the dates for Boxgrove?

  4. Paul Taylor says:

    So why hasn’t anyone called into question the authenticity of the Boxgrove flint tools?
    Is the Taphonomy so different? Can fraud or systematic error be ruled out completely for Boxgrove? After all you can’t date flint tools by laboratory methods, only by “type” and that’s not very satisfactory/scientific. Do the circumstances of the finds rule out fraud/error and are we certain of the dates for Boxgrove? Could hundreds of gleaming unpatinated handaxes have been introduced during the modern era (perhaps by accident). It seems unlikely, but so does lack of patination in such an old site.

  5. Paul Taylor says:

    Actually, I just looked at a photo of a spread of Boxgrove flints and they do seem to have a slight milky, yet transparent, patina. They aren’t quite so shiny and new as I imagined.

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