Fakes, forgeries or copies
A number of items in the Egypt Centre collection are not genuine ancient Egyptian items. However, we still value them.
For most artefacts which are not genuine ancient artefacts, we do not know if they were made with the intention of deception or whether they were sold as copies. We cannot really say that an artefact is a fake unless it was made with the intent to deceive.
We cannot assume that collectors in the past were all as concerned with collecting the ‘genuine’ article as many are now, or rather, they also saw value in copies. Henry Wellcome, for example, seems to have been happy to have had copies made to add to his collection when he could not obtain the original. This does not mean the copy artefacts were ‘fake’. Nore, does it mean that the copy artefacts are without value.
Copies of ancient artefacts are important museum objects and need to be preserved. This does not mean that original ancient artefacts have the same value as copies. Orginal ancient artefacts have a particicular value which relates to their ancient past, and to their more recent past just as more recent artefacts have a particular value which relates to their recent past.
Objects, ancient, or modern, may be valued for various reasons. Copies, fakes and ancient objects may all be aesthetically valuable. Artefacts may also be valued for their ‘magical contagion‘ importance, psychological reasons. Objects may, for example, make the viewer feel closer to the time the artefact was made or used, or closer to the person who made or used it in the past. Other value may be related to the fact that an artefact can give concrete ‘evidence’ regarding its past. It can be studied to show how something actually was in the past. Meaning of objects always lies in the intermix between the object itself, the environment of the object in its past and present and in the viewer and their environment. All these facets apply to both ancient and more recent artefacts.
Ancient objects may have been valued in the past because of their environment (who owned them, what was that society like, etc). Over time that environment and the value of the object might change. Copies of ancient artefacts, or ancient artefacts altered recently, give us information on what was desirable in the recent past and also may give insight into what was thought of as typically Egyptian. They may bring us psychologically in contact with a ‘romantic’ era when wealthy Europeans went to Egypt and came back with copies of ancient artefacts as souvenirs. In museums, recent copies may be used for handling whereas originals may not be.
Futhermore, if we claim that all attempts to approximate to the past are ‘fake’ one might complain that displays of Egyptian antiquities are always ‘fakes’. Displays, such as those in museums take artefacts from their original contexts and reassemble them in ways in which they would not have been in the ancient world. Items which may have been insignificant in the past are given a high status in museums. A broken, wooden khol pot may be put behind glass and treasured, for example.
People may be dissapointed when they are told that artefacts are not what they thought they were. For people who are interested in Egyptology, for example, they may be upset that finding an artefact was not made in ancient Egypt. Collectors of ‘art’ may be upset that a particular work is not by the artist they had thought (perhaps showing that the value of art does not wholly lie in aesthetics). Therefore, in the Egypt Centre, the information sheets beside the objects explain which artefacts may not be ancient Egyptian. However, please be aware that the objects are not displayed in a way which approximates to the past!
Here are a selection of items in the Centre which may be copies (some, such as W150) are may be genuine ancient artefacts, we are not sure, others such as EC299 are replicas rather than made to deceive. Others may be genuine artefacts which have been altered. We value our copies:
W924 Figure in a boat (?Predynastic)
EC245 Bes, woman giving birth, or fake?
W127 a model dagger with cartouche of Tuthmosis III, or a fake
W588 A Middle Kingdom goose or a fake?