July 26, 2010

Fake boat

To complement the Egyptian collections acquired by George Reisner under the patronage of Phoebe Hearst, the museum accessioned a number of objects from other sources and donors throughout its history. Some of them later turned out to be modern or contemporary reproductions of archaeological pieces. In other words: fakes.
Fakes and forgeries are rather common in museum collections and PAHMA is no exception. It should be specified that in many cases fake objects were willingly accessioned despite or indeed because of their nature. Known forgeries curated in Berkeley include ancient Roman coins, Mexican figurines, Egyptian scarabs, Chinese pottery and even a shrunken "head" from Ecuador made with animal skin and hair.
In 1992, a selection of such objects was featured in a public exhibit entitled Too Good To Be True. The following text is what visitors could read almost twenty years ago on the exhibit label for today's object.

Egyptian funerary boats were traditionally used in the funerary voyages to and from the sanctuary of Osiris at Abydos. To be without a boat for this crossing meant that the spirit might be barred from immortality. This particular model was made in 1935 A.D. and purchased in Egypt by Mrs. Alma Spreckles while on a buying trip for the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. Model boats are now often crudely made from genuine pieces of ancient wood or, more commonly, "antiqued" by immersing the wood in camel urine, a process which greatly enhances the boat's aura and aroma.

According to the Smithsonian Institution in the last decade more than 60,000 fakes were sequestered by the Italian police before they could enter the market. Can anyone calculate how much urine would be needed?
The featured boat is ca. 62 cm long while the figures are ca. 12-15 cm tall.

Hearst Museum # 5-14112
Funerary boat model (detail)
Egypt; unspecified (purchased in Egypt)
Collected by Alma Spreckles, 1935

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