Forging Antiquity

The website for the Australian Research Council Discovery Project: Forging Antiquity: Authenticity, forgery and fake papyri

About us

This project grew from three sources: sections of the graduate-level historiography course taught by Yuen-Collingridge at Macquarie University provided the framework for an investigation of authenticity and forgery in relation to the ancient world; Choat’s involvement in the ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ affair and his participation in a Society of Biblical Literature taskforce on unprovenanced antiquities led to his interest in forgeries and issues of cultural heritage; and earlier collaboration between Ast’s project on Antique Letters as a Means of Communication and Choat and Yuen-Collingridge’s ARC project on scribal practice in duplicate papyri led to further questions about scribal practice which are inter alia addressed in this project. As a research team, we have a set of related concerns which underpin this work.

Our work on a typology of forged papyri, and methodologies and resources for their detection, incorporates not only technical analysis of forgeries, but also investigation of their production and distribution. We thus hope to provide not improved means of assessing and detecting the increasingly large numbers of forgeries being sold on traditional and new antiquities markets, but reflection on the wider role they play in questions of cultural heritage, authenticity discourses, and questions of expertise.

Cultural heritage, provenance, and the antiquities trade are central to our concerns. Our investigations of the provenance, production, and purchasing of fake papyri find their context in wider concerns about the antiquities market , especially that for papyri. These issues address both target markets and buyers (including the recent upsurge – sometimes on a large scale and at great expense – in purchasing of textual artifacts), and source countries, where issues of cultural heritage and looting have become critical. Dundler’s Masters of Research thesis project on the internet trade in papyri examines an aspect of this issue in detail.

All these issues are framed within broader interests in discourses of authenticity and expertise. The significance of the past is nowhere more evident than when its authenticity is called into question. Forgeries can undermine or support dominant institutions and practices, and unsettle the public’s confidence both in the past itself, and in the disciplinary expertise of those who comment on it. Our investigations of the strategies for the detection of forgeries over the last 500 years find their context in new questions which have arisen about how we trust the past as presented to us by both professional and amateur commentators, and what constitutes the authority to participate in debates about the past.

We thus aim to combine technical and historiographic analysis, situating close examination of forged papyri within socio-historical perspectives on the work of forgers, and the role their productions play in academic and public discussions of the past. By studying the production of forged manuscripts alongside evolving strategies for their detection, we hope to provide insights into the development of authentication techniques, and the means by which forgeries are produced and detected. Via examination of the way debates over forged antiquities engage with other contemporary issues and positioning the development of academic professionalism in relation to evolving public views of the past, we hope to illuminate alignments and disjunctions between academic and popular views on the value of the past, and on who has the authority to determine authenticity.

Contact us at info@forgingantiquity.com, or via the contact details in the Team section below.

Aims

The project aims to produce a full typology of forged papyri of all types, from the early modern period to the present day, by a close examination of fake papyri of every type. Alongside this, we investigate how papyrus forgers work, both in terms of the methods they use, and the assumptions about the past which they exploit when producing fakes. In doing so, we will locate and contextualise debates over forged papyri within contemporary discussions, in particular debates over the ethics and practice of the antiquities trade and the related problem of the illegal trafficking of artefacts; and public perceptions of the relative value of scientific and humanities expertise in the detection of forged artefacts.

Team

The team for ‘Forging Antiqity’ is based at Macquarie University, Sydney, and the University of Heidelberg, Germany.

Lead Investigators:

Postdoctoral Fellow and Project Manager:

Research Assistants:

Research students:

Collaborators: