Throughout history, clever artists have attempted to pass off or sell an object that was not authentic, a fake artifact. In some cases, these objects were sold to private collectors, but museums too have been duped. In ancient Egypt, there were superb copy makers of Egyptian artifacts. Even the "reputable" sellers of animal mummies in ancient Egypt would, at times, dupe the buyer. Early in the 20th century, seemingly authentic artifacts were sold for a grand price to museums across the world. Once an object is determined to be a fake, the next question is, is it a modern fake or an ancient fake? Even if an object is not authentic, it still represents an important part of our understanding of our past.
During the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries, traveling carnivals attracted many paying customers into their sideshow tents with a wide variety of concocted beasts, mummified humans, and unique variations of the human anatomy. Many of these items were very realistic in appearance and quite cleverly constructed. The sideshow industry was clearly a profit maker for traveling shows, so much so that ancillary industries sprang up to provide quality fakes for the entrepreneurs of the day. Once such company, the Nelson Supply House, published a catalog of creatures, oddities, and crafted human remains that were turnkey operations, complete with banners to advertise these wonderful and unique variations of nature to the carnival attendees, guaranteed to get their entry fee as well as their eyes and ears into the sideshow tent. Figure 9.16 presents an x-ray of one of the now well-known "Fiji Mermaid" attractions that traveled the sideshow circuits. The radiographs reveal the construction features of these beautiful creatures of mythology and identify them as fake, that is, not real mermaids at all.
Regarding the mummified human attractions, real mummies were also exhibited in traveling carnivals, usually with some wild, fantastic story told about them. In this case, the only thing fake was the story concocted to bring money into the tent. However, as real human remains became harder to come by and the sideshow industry continued to grow, companies like the Nelson Supply House filled that need with elaborate and wonderful fake mummies.
At times, when imaging objects of antiquity or recent history, a fake is discovered. In other situations, researchers are well aware that they are working on a fake and, in this case, research goals similar to those applied to works of art are adopted. While imaging museum collections, paleoimagers must be prepared to "discover" a fake artifact or
Figure 9.16 Radiographic image of a Fiji Mermaid, showing construction features.
Figure 9.16 Radiographic image of a Fiji Mermaid, showing construction features.
mummy. If a fake is discovered, the examination of the internal construction features becomes important. If it is a known fake, paleoimaging helps determine the stability of the piece, its construction features, and provides data that may be used to support further conservation efforts.
We present four case examples of fakes. We also present one unique case of a radiographic study of a museum piece whose contents were unknown to the curator and proved to be a pleasant surprise. The first case demonstrates the questionable business practice of animal mummy sales in ancient Egypt. The second demonstrates the clever construction of a fake mummy used in the sideshow industry. The third case was another known fake that someone was trying to sell to Ripley's Entertainment as authentic. The fourth case demonstrates how a museum can be unknowingly holding fake items among their collections. The fifth case provides a justification for imaging museum collections, as often what you don't see can be surprising.
Case #1: The Egyptian Animal Mummy Industry
Many museums hold collections of animal mummies from ancient Egypt. In an attempt to better understand the methods used and reasons for these mummifications, museums are asking to have their animal mummy collections radiographed. Some of the more common Egyptian animal mummies are those of cats and various birds, including ibis and falcons. During our examination of several animal mummies from the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California, the Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven, Connecticut, and Ripley's Entertainment in Orlando, Florida, we discovered evidence of fraudulent practice in the animal mummy industry of ancient Egypt.
We radiographed a variety of cat mummies at these and other museums and found that you may not have received what you paid for. We examined several Egyptian wrapped cat mummies that were all about the same height (Mummy Menagerie 2003b). However, although there was certainly a cat within each mummy wrapping, the size of the wrapping did not always correspond to the size of the cat inside. Figure 9.17 presents radiographs of three wrapped Egyptian cats. The images demonstrate the animal size variation wrapped within similar-sized preparations. The fact that the cat did not fill the wrapping may not have been important to those purchasing these cat mummies; however, it would seem that some purchase pricing scale would have likely been related to the size of the mummy, with the consumer assuming that the cat inside was as large as the wrapping. This was clearly not the case.
We have also radiographed a number of Egyptian falcon mummies. Many of these wrapped falcons contained complete birds and were quite beautiful. However, as the demand for falcon mummies rose, where did all the falcons come from? Cats and crocodiles were relatively easy to raise and therefore harvest for mummy making. Falcons, on the other hand, would have been difficult to domesticate, and it would have been very difficult to produce enough mummies to meet the demand. It is not surprising then that when we radiographed falcon mummies, many of them were devoid of any bones whatsoever. Still other falcon mummies held only a single or very few bones (Figure 9.18).
As we discussed these findings among our research group, we found it curious that a small cat would be in a large mummy wrapping. No one in ancient Egypt or modern museums for that matter was going to unwrap the mummy and discover the size discrepancy. One
must wonder if size really mattered at all, even if there was an incomplete animal, as was the case with many falcon mummies. Perhaps a piece of the bird was thought to be enough to serve as a votive offering. Further, if one bought an empty falcon mummy, would they ever discover it? With these variations exposed through paleoimaging research, it seems that the Egyptian animal mummy industry was inconsistent at best, dishonest at worst.
Case #2: The 9'2'' Tall Amazonian Princess
One of Nelson Supply House's specialties was the "Amazon Princess." She came with everything you needed to set her up in a sideshow, right out of the crate, banners, and all. For an extra hundred dollars, you could also get her mummified baby. We examined an Amazonian Princess at the Dime Museum in Baltimore for an episode of the documentary series The Mummy Road Show called "Faking It" (2001) and again several years later at David Copperfield's International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Amazonian Princess was a wonderful piece of art and Americana. Using paleoimaging to examine artwork is as challenging, if not more so, than imaging human remains, particularly when the craftsmanship was so extraordinary as is the case with the Amazonian Princess. She must have been a perfect sideshow draw.
Whoever built the Amazon Princess was not only familiar with human anatomy, but apparently had some familiarity with South American mummies. An initial observation verified that this was a fake. Particularly, she was not in a flexed, or fetal position, as
are most pre-Columbian mummies from South America. A mummy in a flexed position would have been problematic from a sideshow display standpoint. There was even an opening in the skin covering the thorax that showed exposed ribs. We were able to determine from their morphology and size that the exposed ribs were not human but from a large animal, probably a bovine. Radiographs taken with Fuji CR plates and later processed with a rubber algorithm clearly demonstrated the use of both manufactured and real ribs (Figures 9.19 and 9.20). An opening in the abdominal region also exposed fabricated internal viscera.
Radiographic and endoscopic examinations were conducted to try to determine construction features and provide data for conservation efforts. We were also hoping to transport the Amazonian Princess to a modern imaging facility to conduct a CT scan for 3D modeling. Our on-site analysis, however, ruled out moving the Princess as she was disarticulated at both hips and fastened to her display case at the pelvic region. There would have been no way to remove her from her case without damaging this very unique work of art. Moving her to the CT scanner in her case was also ruled out as the case dimensions exceeded that of the CT scanner opening.
On-site imaging analysis revealed an internal construction framework made from various-sized wood and gauges of wires (Figure 9.21). The hands, in particular, were intricately
constructed on a wire framework. There were many nails and screws present throughout the framework. It was anticipated that we would find a chicken wire shell upon which the "skin" was fashioned. The skin turned out to be a burlap wrap coated with papier-mache and then painted. Radiographically, the teeth appeared to have a density similar to wood. The endoscopic images revealed excelsior as internal packing used to give volume and shape to the mummy. Endoscopy further demonstrated that the cracks around each leg at the hip ran completely through the mummy, ruling out moving the mummy.
From these data, we were able to provide the owners with construction characteristics as well as an assessment of the state of conservation. If the mummy art is to be moved, it must be done with the utmost care in order not to damage the piece.
Case #3: Is It a Real Chupacabra?
It may not come as a surprise to the reader, but we have a close relationship with Ripley's Believe It or Not. We have examined several of their human mummies that are on display in various museums. We have also imaged a mummified hand and several animal mummies for Ripley's Entertainment. We were not surprised to get a call from Edward Meyer, vice president of collections for Ripley's Entertainment, regarding an object that he knew was a fake. Someone wanted to sell Ripley's an authentic fetal chupacabra.
A chupacabra is a cryptid, a creature presumed extinct, a hypothetical species, or a creature known from anecdotal evidence or other evidence insufficient to prove its existence with scientific certainty. The chupacabra is said to inhabit parts of the Americas. It is associated with the ancient myth of the chimera or griffin and more recently with alleged sightings of an unknown animal first reported in Puerto Rico, then in Mexico, and in the United States, especially in the latter's Latin American communities. The name translates from the Spanish as "goat sucker." It comes from the creature's reported habit of attacking and drinking the blood of livestock, especially goats.
Physical descriptions of the creature vary. Eyewitness sightings have been claimed as early as 1990 in Puerto Rico, and have since been reported as far north as Maine and as far south as Chile. In 2008, a sighting was reported by the sheriff's deputies in southern Texas. Mainstream scientists and experts generally hypothesize that the chupacabra is an ordinary, though perhaps unknown, species of canid, a legendary creature, or a type of urban legend. It is supposedly a heavy creature, the size of a small bear, with a row of spines reaching from the neck to the base of the tail.
The most common description of the chupacabra is that of a reptilelike creature, appearing to have leathery or scaly greenish-gray skin and sharp spines or quills running down its back. This form stands approximately 3 to 4 ft (1 to 1.2 m) high, and stands and hops in a similar fashion to the gait of a kangaroo. In at least one sighting, the creature hopped 6 m (20 ft). This variety is said to have a dog- or pantherlike nose and face, a forked tongue protruding from it, large fangs: it is also said to hiss and screech when alarmed, and leave a sulfuric stench behind. When it screeches, some reports note that the Chupacabra's eyes glow an unusual red, which then gives the witnesses nausea. For some witnesses, it was seen with batlike wings.
In another description of Chupacabra, it looks like a strange breed of wild, mostly hairless, dog. It is said to have a pronounced spinal ridge, unusually pronounced eye sockets, fangs, and claws. It is claimed that this breed might be an example of a doglike reptile. The corpse of an animal found in Leon, Nicaragua, and forensically analyzed at a University in Leon is claimed to be a specimen of this genus. Pathologists at the University found that it was an unusual looking doglike creature of an unknown species. Unlike conventional predators, the Chupacabra is said to drain all of the animal's blood (and sometimes organs) through a single hole or two holes.
Although Edward Meyer knew the fetal Chupacabra was a fake, he wanted us to document it. We received the specimen at our laboratory. The fetal Chupacabra was in a 1.5 L specimen jar filled with a yellow-tinged liquid; we surmise it was designed to resemble formalin and to obscure the object from direct scrutiny (Figure 9.22). After opening the lid, it was clear that the solution was not formalin based. After removing the fetal Chupacabra from the solution, it was radiographed just as any artifact is. Images from various angles were taken. It appears that this supposed organic creature was fashioned from some variety of modeling clay, carefully carved with features designed to give a lifelike appearance (Figure 9.23). We do not know if our friends at Ripley's used the data to refute the authenticity claims made by the would-be seller, or simply used the information to drive the asking price down. After all, fake or real, it was so well done that it could be a commercial draw at one of the Ripley's museums.
Case #4: The Case of the Missing Baboon
Ancient Egyptians mummified many animals for a variety of purposes. In some cases, the mummified animal served as a votive offering to a specific deity. The Apis Bull was mummified with a special method and ritual because it was a sacred animal. Other mummified animals were probably domestic pets. Still others were likely mummified to provide
some utility in the afterlife, such as food for the deceased. A great variety of animals were mummified, including cats, ibis, falcons, crocodiles, baboons, fish, snakes, gazelles, and the Apis Bull. While working on an ancient human mummy at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California, we took the opportunity to radiograph a beautifully preserved mummy of a baboon that was in a Plexiglas case (Egypt California Style 2002). A baboon mummy was meant to represent and offering to the god Thoth. Baboon mummies
were also associated with the Goddess Osiris. To image the entire baboon, a nonscreened approach was selected. If cassettes had been employed, each relatively heavy film holder would have to be fixed to the wall. Since Polaroid film is packaged in light-tight black envelopes, each 8 x 10 in. (20.32 x 25.4 cm) envelope could easily be fixed to the wall behind the case with masking tape. With approximately 0.25 in. (7 mm) of each envelope overlapped over those above and below, the entire set of six radiographs could be reassembled. When the images were processed, the skeletal remains of a baboon were lacking (Figure 9.24). The baboon mummy was an artfully crafted replica using a ceramic vase as the interior mold. Wrappings surrounded dense packing material to form the arms and legs and to add body volume to the "mummy."
Although we were all surprised at the finding, no one was more surprised than the museum director. What the museum believed was an authentic animal mummy was exposed as a fraud. The museum obviously would never be able to reclaim the money spent to purchase the baboon mummy. Instead, they took advantage of the opportunity that the imaging brought to them. The museum now describes the ancient Egyptian animal mummy industry, including discussions about ancient and more recent fraudulent practices surrounding the industry.
Case #5: It's What You Don't see that Counts
This final case presents a rationale for imaging entire museum collections. Too often, museum collections hold objects of antiquity that are out of context and, due to resource restrictions and the shear volume of some collections, curators have been unable to study items of interest. While at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California, the curator brought to our attention a unique artifact from their collection rooms (Mummy Menagerie 2003b). The Egyptian piece had the shape of a falcon made from wood, approximately 15 in. (38.1 cm) in length, and was assumed to hold a falcon mummy. Upon closer examination, the falcon coffin was holding a small figurine of the human form wrapped in very fine linen. The human shape was in the form of Osiris with arms crossed across the chest. In Egyptian mythology, Osiris was killed by his brother and torn into little pieces. Osiris' wife, Isis, gathered all the pieces and put him back together. Osiris, who died and then lived again, was the symbol of regeneration, the foundation of mummy making in Egyptian mythology, to be born again. Radiographs were taken of the figurine within the coffin. Although no animal or human bones were found, the small figurine wrapped in the finest of linens was found to contain mud and seeds (Figure 9.25). The curator realized that what they had in their collection was a relatively rare Egyptian artifact that was made only once a year. The image of the god Osiris was made from mud and seeds, the mud representing the fertile earth and the seeds representing new life or life from nothing. The construct is that the earth gives life to the seeds and the seeds give life to the people in the form of good crops. The figurine was buried, or planted, once a year as an offering, with the seeds
representing new life. The people would then follow the ritual by planting their own crops, assured of a good harvest.
This brief case demonstrates the need for museums to fully examine their collections nondestructively. The Osiris figurine is but a single example of the potential for research among the collection rooms of many museums and suggests that on-site paleoimaging can make a significant contribution to understanding these out-of-con-text artifacts.
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