Forging Antiquity

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

20–22 September 2018, Macquarie University, Sydney

The conference “Manuscripts from the Margins” gathers together a group of the world’s leading experts in fake texts from throughout history to examine the forging of manuscripts (defined widely to include all surfaces on which writing is found) of all sorts. The conference has two parts. A two-day workshop on the 20th–21st September, “How to Edit a Forgery”, and a day of public lectures on synthetic themes, “Faking it”.

The keynote speaker will be Professor Christopher Rollston, Associate Professor of Northwest Semitic languages and literatures, Department of Classical and Near Eastern languages and Civilizations, George Washington University, Washington D.C.

Funding for this conference has been provided by the Ian Potter Foundation, the Australian Research Council, the MQ Ancient Cultures Research Centre, the Sir Asher Joel Foundation, and the Society for the Study of Early Christianity.

Manuscripts from the Margins: How to Edit a Forgery

Macquarie University, 20–21 September 2018.

This two-day workshop will address issues involved in working with, editing, and publishing forgeries (certain or alleged) through the presentation of a diverse range of textual forgeries purporting to be from antiquity through to the early modern period.

The how and why of editing forged texts is a largely unarticulated domain. Whilst forgeries are ubiquitous in collections everywhere, they remain understudied and unappreciated. Efforts have concentrated on the identification of telltale signs of duplicity, rather than on the mechanics used to feign authenticity. As the intention of forgers differs from that of pre-modern scribes, the publication of textual remains cannot proceed as usual. Lacunae may be intentional and text fragmentary from its inception.

Palaeographical description and the registering of other metatextual features are further complicated by the aspirations and failures of forgers. What sorts of comparisons are possible or even responsible? How much of the traditional repertoire of conventional signs and symbols should we read into ambiguous marks? Do we engage with the artefact as executed or imagined? Is it ethical to publish editions which make transparent forgers’ techniques? Does scholarly engagement with forgeries merely warn future fakers of things they should avoid? These questions illustrate some of the potential problems which attend work on and the publication of forgeries.


Thursday 20th September

‘The Marzeah Papyrus: Putative Arguments for Authenticity’
Christopher Rollston, George Washington University

‘The Azusa Pacific University Deuteronomy Fragment DSS F.153 and the Usage of C-14 Dating for Authentication’
Kipp Davis, Trinity Western University

2.20 – 2.50 pm Afternoon tea

2.50 – 4.10 pm
‘The Jerusalem Papyrus: Is it a forgery, and how to deal with it?’
Michael Langlois, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies / Centre de Recherche Français à Jérusalem / University of Strasbourg

‘Tracking Forgers Across Collections: script and format in a group of fake papyri’
Rodney Ast, University of Heidelberg

4.10 – 4.20 pm Pause

4.20 – 5.20 pm
‘Constantine Simonides and his collection of papyri’
Rachel Yuen-Collingridge and Malcolm Choat, Macquarie University

5.30 –7.00 pm Reception: Australian Hearing Hub, Level 3 Recreation room

Friday 21st September

9.20 – 10.40 am
‘Forgeries in Later Copies: Cotton Claudius C.ix and the Problem of the Ortodoxorum Charters’
Levi Roach, University of Exeter

‘Anne Boleyn’s Letter from the Tower, 6 May 1539’
Stephanie Russo, Macquarie University

10.40 – 11.10 am Morning tea

11.10 am – 12.30 pm
‘MU2893: a fake(?) Greek inscription in the Museum of Ancient Cultures, Macquarie University’
Paul McKechnie (Macquarie University) and Jennifer Irving (University of Nebraska, Omaha and Lincoln)

‘Forgeries for the Pigeons: An inscribed bronze tablet with dedication to Drusus Minor from Venice and related objects’
Lorenzo Calvelli, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice

12.30–2.00 pm Lunch

2.00 – 3.20 pm

‘From papyrus to mummy bandages: the fake Book of the Dead in the John Rylands University Library in Manchester’
Rita Lucarelli, University of California Berkeley

‘The “Tulli Papyrus”: an alleged Hieratic forgery’
Nicola Reggiani, University of Parma

3.20 – 3.50 pm afternoon tea
‘“Archaic Mark”: A forged Gospel codex in the University of Chicago Library’
Stephen Carlson, Australian Catholic University (Melbourne)

‘A dedication to Lucius Aemilius Paulus in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge’
Caroline Barron, Birkbeck, University of London

Evening: Conference dinner

Faking it: Manuscripts from the Margins

Australian Hearing Hub, Level 1 Lecture Theatre, Macquarie University, 22 September 2018.

When it comes to the past, wherever truth matters, fakes abound. The creation, distortion, manipulation, or reconstitution of information shapes our experience of the world at every level. The growing sophistication of technology seems to have amplified rather than solved the problem. Telling ‘real’ from ‘fake’, ‘true’ from ‘false’, ‘original’ from ‘copy’ is not simply a dilemma of modern information technology, but a crisis of history, which haunts every vehicle we use to exemplify and affirm ‘facts’ about the world. This public event brings together eleven international and local experts to present diverse perspectives on forgery, including discussions of fake texts on stone, papyrus, parchment, and paper, the effect of fakes on antiquities markets and scholarship, and the relationship between fake, copy, and replica in the digital age. From the Book of the Dead to the Dead Sea Scrolls, via inscriptions, papyri, charters, letters, and other texts from the ancient to early modern world, this event will examine the importance of forgeries for the way we assess and communicate history, and how they effect our view of both the past and the present.

The program for the day will consist of a series of lectures, followed by a panel disucssion to which members of the audience may submit questions. In the evening there will be a reception and a viewing of the associated exhibition “Faking it” in the Museum of Ancient Cultures. The day’s events are expected to go from 9.30 am to 5.00 pm, with the reception from 5.30–7.30 pm. A full program will be uploaded shortly. A list of speakers and abstracts may be found below.

Attendence is free but registration is essential: to register, go to


10.00–10.20am Opening and Welcome

10.20–10.35am ‘Fan Fiction: Evangelicalism, Inerrancy, and the Marketplace for Modern-day Relic Hunters’
Kipp Davis, Trinity Western University

10.35–10.50am ‘New Testament Textual Criticism and Forgery’
Stephen C. Carlson, Australian Catholic University (Melbourne)

10.50–11.20am Morning tea

11.20–11.35am ‘3D printed replicas vs their originals for the study and preservation of ancient Egyptian antiquities’
Rita Lucarelli, University of California Berkeley

11.35–11.50am ‘Fires in the sky: the “Tulli Papyrus”, an alleged Egyptological forgery’
Nicola Reggiani, University of Parma

11.50am–12.05pm ‘Forging Fakes and Just Plain Faking. Thoughts on a Range of Forgery Types’
Rodney Ast, University of Heidelberg

12.05–12.15pm Pause

12.15–12.30pm ‘Once a forger, always a forger. How to deal with fake inscriptions’
Lorenzo Calvelli, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice

12.30–12.45pm ‘Forgery or restoration? Fake inscriptions are found in Grand Tour collections’
Caroline Barron, Birkbeck, University of London

12.45–1.00pm ‘Fake Founders and Counterfeit Claims: Forging the Past in the Middle Ages’
Levi Roach, University of Exeter

1.00–2.00pm Lunch (provided)

2.00–2.15pm ‘The Jerusalem Papyrus, Israel, and UNESCO’
Michael Langlois, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies / Centre de Recherche Français à Jérusalem / University of Strasbourg

2.15–2.30pm ‘Emotional Authenticity: Anne Boleyn’s Letter from the Tower’
Stephanie Russo, Macquarie University

2.30–2.45pm ‘Faking it: Reflections on a theme’
Rachel Yuen-Collingridge, Macquarie University

2.45–3.15pm Afternoon tea

3.15–4.00pm Keynote: ‘The Future’s Perfect Forgery (and the Way for You to Debunk It)’ Christopher Rollston, George Washington University

4.00–4.10pm Pause

4.10–5.00pm Panel Discussion

5.30–7.30pm Reception and Opening of the Museum of Ancient Cultures Exhibition ‘Faking it: Forgeries & Artefacts in dialogue’ 29 Wally’s Walk / X5B Courtyard & T1 Foyer

Speakers and abstracts
Forging Fakes and Just Plain Faking. Thoughts on a Range of Forgery Types

Rodney Ast, University of Heidelberg

Different methods are known to have been used to fake papyrological documents. Real papyrus texts might be cut up and their pieces rearranged in order to produce a more interesting-looking or ‘valuable’ textual object; authentic papyrus sheets or fragments, pasted together to create sheets, could serve as a substrate for forged texts, both nonsensical scribbling and attempts at meaningful compositions. This paper will outline the kinds of forgeries that papyrologists occasionally encounter, with the aim of providing a framework and vocabulary for understanding and describing them.

Forgery or restoration? Fake inscriptions in Grand Tour collections

Caroline Barron, Birkbeck, University of London

This paper will be concerned with the kinds of objects fake inscriptions are found on in Grand Tour collections, and whether we should therefore be thinking about them as deliberate ‘fakes’, or as ‘restored’ elements, similar to the arms/heads etc that were fashioned for broken ancient sculptures. It will include some discussion of the art market in the 18th century, and the expectations of those who ended up acquiring forged inscriptions.

Once a forger, always a forger. How to deal with fake inscriptions

Lorenzo Calvelli, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice

This lecture will investigate how epigraphic forgeries have been identified and dealt with in the course of time. The existence of forged ancient inscriptions has been acknowledged in Europe since the early Renaissance. Scholars have long been aware that the reliability of historical reconstruction may be biased by the use of non-authentic sources. This apprehension has led to a strong rejection of all suspect forgeries, which are often relegated in specific sections of corpora and publications. In my talk, I intend to challenge this dogmatic attitude and suggest a more flexible interpretation of fake inscriptions, which are to be considered the multifaceted products of diverse cultural systems and reveal a shifting and complex relationship with the Greco-Roman world.

New Testament Textual Criticism and Forgery

Stephen Carlson, Australian Catholic University

Critical scholars have long argued that the New Testament contains forgeries, but the role of forgery in editing the text of the New Testament is completely ignored in leading textbooks of the New Testament textual criticism. In this paper, I will examine three aspects of forgery in the Pauline corpus of the New Testament, and evaluate the adequacy of the responses that editors and textual critics of the New Testament have offered to them: (1) Pseudepigraphy, the view that Paul did not write the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) as well as the disputed Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians; (2) Radical revision theories, that Paul’s letters were substantially revised by a later editor; (3) Interpolations, the view that at least some passages of the Pauline Epistles were later inserted into the “original” text of the epistle (especially 1 Cor 14:33-35 on women being silent in church).

Fan Fiction: Evangelicalism, Inerrancy, and the Marketplace for Modern-day Relic Hunters

Kipp Davis, Trinity Western University

It is said that truth is stranger than fiction, but also that life imitates art. The tremendous impact that the imagination has had and continues to have on our own development and history is pronounced, but how much has the narrative of discovery affected the history of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, going so far as to shape the marketplace for their discovery? In this paper I will briefly explore how the vested interest of American Evangelicals in the textual value of the Dead Sea Scrolls has affected their appraisal, and also how it has promoted an entire cottage industry of relic hunting, forgery, and modern veneration.

The Jerusalem Papyrus, Israel, and UNESCO

Michael Langlois, University of Strasbourg

The so-called ‘Jerusalem Papyrus’ was unveiled by Israeli authorities in October 2016, and is said to be the earliest mention of Jerusalem on a Hebrew papyrus. The issue of its authenticity was immediately raised, as this document was not found during controlled excavations. Yet, some of the most respected epigraphers had asserted that the manuscript is genuine. It was made public just as UNESCO was voting on a draft resolution calling Israel the ‘occupying power’ of Palestine, and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu used this papyrus as evidence that Jerusalem was the capital of a Hebrew state some 2,700 yeas ago. As well as discussing the authenticity of the papyrus, this paper will examine the political and religious implications of this ‘discovery’.

3D printed replicas vs their originals for the study and preservation of ancient Egyptian antiquities

Rita Lucarelli, University of California Berkeley

The recent development and use of 3D scanning technologies and photogrammetry to reproduce ancient artefacts kept in museums has changed our view on the concept of replicas vs their original. 3D digital artifact models and prints can play an important role to help museums to promote their collections worldwide. 3D digital and printed replicas of various ancient Egyptian antiquities, from statues and busts to coffins, stelas and other magical objects, are becoming increasingly popular on the web as well as in museums kiosks and shops. This lecture will discuss issues and challenges related to replicas and copies in the study and fruition of the ancient Egyptian heritage, including questions of intellectual property rights and accessibility of the virtual platforms where the replicas are shared, through the example of the 3D models of ancient Egyptian coffins produced for the “Book of the Dead in 3D” project housed at the University of California, Berkeley.

Fires in the sky: the “Tulli Papyrus”, an alleged Egyptological forgery

Nicola Reggiani, University of Parma

The so-called “Tulli Papyrus” is a controversial fragment of a Hieratic papyrus, now lost and existing only in transcription, the content of which – describing some alleged celestial phenomenon – has been interpreted from time to time as a part of a late Book of the Dead, as the description of a natural event, as the ‘proof’ of an ancient Egyptian UFO sighting (from the annals of Thutmosis III, ca. 1479-1425 BC), and as a not very much skilful forgery. This curious text was allegedly ‘discovered’ and transcribed in hieroglyphs in 1934 in Cairo by Étienne Drioton (later Director of the Egyptian Museum) and Alberto Tulli (Egyptologist of the Vatican Museum), then was re-transcribed and ‘published’ in 1953 by Boris de Rachewiltz, the notorious Egyptologist with esoteric interests, who first gave the ‘ufological’ interpretation, with much success in the field and subsequent translations, quotations, and theories. While Giuseppe Botti, curator at the Egyptian Museum in Florence, unsuccessfully tried to study it from an academic viewpoint in the late Sixties, the US Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects (also known as “Condon Report”, 1968) stressed its parallels with a Biblical passage and recorded it as a forgery. A very recent (and not fully accurate) online deconstruction by amateur Egyptologist Franco Brussino (2006) recognized several phrases as taken from Alan Gardiner’s Egyptian Grammar, but the text did not cease to keep its real nature obscure. The presentation of this ‘papyrus’ will outline the history of this papyrus, and examine how this can help us understand the possible reasons for the ‘virtual’ forgery – religious purposes, economic interests, popular folklore, or just a joke?

Fake Founders and Counterfeit Claims: Forging the Past in the Middle Ages

Levi Roach, University of Exeter

Few periods can claim to have launched as many forgeries as the Middle Ages. From Lisbon to Jerusalem, and Norway to Sicily, monks and clerics of the period falsified on an unprecedented scale. Yet what all this activity means has been rather difficult to say. Early generations of historians saw this efflorescence of falsification as evidence of the childish naïveté of the era – as a sign that the people of this simple age could not distinguish past from present – but it is increasingly clear that medieval forgers were highly trained and possessed of a keen historical sense. This talk therefore turns old arguments on their head, suggesting that the medieval boom in forgery – reaching its high point in the eleventh and twelfth century – was a product of burgeoning historical awareness as a crucial moment in European history. Not unlike the later Humanist Renaissance, in central medieval Europe forgery and criticism went hand-in-hand.

The Future’s Perfect Forgery (and the Way for You to Debunk It)

Christopher Rollston, George Washington University

Although there are exceptions, the majority of forged inscriptions that are now on the antiquities market and entering collections (including museums) are really quite good. Those who are producing modern forgeries are doing their homework…they are reading our articles and books so as to avoid mistakes with regard to script and language, and they are bringing in friends with good backgrounds in the hard-sciences so as to assist them in the production of fake patinas and fake inks. And, of course, because it is quite simple to find potsherds on any tell, and quite simple to find ancient papyrus blanks on the antiquities market, there is no problem acquiring an ancient medium (that will, of course, pass all the laboratory tests). And since inscriptions routinely sell for tens of thousands of US dollars, the financial motivation is strong. In short, the time will soon come, and perhaps is already here, when someone can produce a perfect modern forgery, one that passes all the tests. We must, therefore, be vigilant, and we must strive even harder to stay ahead of the forgers. The integrity of the field is at stake.

Emotional Authenticity: Anne Boleyn’s Letter from the Tower

Stephanie Russo, Macquarie University

In the archives of the British Library, a partially burnt letter holds a tantalizing mystery: is this the final letter of Anne Boleyn? The letter purports to be from Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII, written from Anne’s prison in the Tower just two weeks before her execution in May 1536. The letter is almost certainly a forgery dating from the reign of Elizabeth I, Anne’s daughter. However, recent reassessments have claimed that the letter is authentic, in part due to the letter’s apparent ‘emotional’ authenticity; in other words, the way the letter seems to conform to our sense that this is how Anne Boleyn should have, or would have, felt. In this paper, I will consider the letter’s relationship to judgments about authenticity: why do we want this letter to be real? What does the reception of this letter tell us about the relationship between history, forgery and authenticity?

For further information please email