One of the problems with putting together an accurate picture of the past is determining what is real and what isn’t. Whether we are talking about fossils or archaeological discoveries, there are always people who make fake artifact claims. Sometimes they do it as a means to get notoriety, sometimes to get money, and sometimes both. Time magazine, February 4-11, 2019, page 10, presented is a short list of famous fakes:
THE PILTDOWN MAN was introduced as a missing link in human evolution. Amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson claimed to have discovered the skull in 1912. Forty years later it was exposed as a forgery. The portrait painted in 1915 by John Cooke shows a group of distinguished scientists examining the faked skull. Notice the picture of Charles Darwin on the wall.
SCOTTISH STONE CIRCLE has been a subject of archaeological interest because it was considered to be a remnant of early man. It turned out to be a structure that a local farmer built in the 1990s.
THE GOLDEN TIARA was supposed to have belonged to an ancient Scythian king. The Louvre purchased it in 1896, and it was later shown to be a fake made by an Odessa goldsmith.
THE MISSISSIPPI MUMMY was part of the old Capitol Museum since 1920. It was claimed to be from the time of Christ and perhaps related to Joseph and Mary’s time in Egypt. In 1969 a medical student X-rayed it and found it was composed of paper-mâché, a wooden frame, and nails. Fake artifact claims often take a long time to be discovered.
PINGYI MISSING LINK TO DINOSAURS was a fossil pictured on the cover of National Geographic in 1999 as proof that birds descended from dinosaurs. The fossil is actually a fake composed by a local farmer. Chinese paleontologists estimate that more than 80% of the marine reptiles displayed in China’s museums are forged.
All of this is a demonstration of a challenge to scientists to continually be aware that the old “rule of graduate work” made in jest is always with us. It says “make sure your data conforms to your conclusions.” Fake artifact claims sometimes result from the pressure put on researchers to publish or perish. When the truth becomes known it can be painfully embarrassing for the scientists involved. For us laymen, no matter what our belief system is, it is essential to be careful with our sources of information.
–John N. Clayton