Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets by Sue Alcock Part 4 (Amarna Princess Fake)

Option #3: When is a fake a fake? A fraud a fraud?

  1. Find an example of a famous archaeological or art historical ‘fake’ (an object, an event, a person or a creature).
  2. Describe your example, including what it was, when it was created, by whom (if we know) and why.
  3. Is this fake in any way harmful? Are fakes ever interesting in their own right?  Is there any ‘truth’ to this fake?
  4. If possible, upload an image (with a Creative Commons license*) or include a URL (weblink) to a website that displays your example, with your assignment.
    * For advice on how to find images, see the Guide to Image Collections.

Images of your ‘fake’ are optional, approximately 400-750 words.

This exercise should take no more than two hours.


Unit 4 Amarna Princess

The Amarna Princess was a statue bought by Bolton Museum which subsequently proved to be a fake created by Shaun Greenhalgh and made in 2003. It was created to make money for him and his family, £850,000 over 17 years. It is made of alabaster, uninscribed and a portrayal of a female figure minus head, arms and feet. It has the full, rounded figure of an ‘Amarna’ style figure and a beautifully pleated dress. It has the bottom part of a wig on right shoulder. This is an Egyptian period when the art style was radically different from any other period.

It was authenticated by Christies and the British Museum but the basis of that was not revealed. It was thought by some people to be because the faker provided a very convincing provenance it was said to “purchased by the owner’s great grandfather in 1892 at a sale of the contents of Silverton Park in Devon, the home of the 4th Earl of Egremont. The sale catalogue does not contain a recognisable description of this piece and it appears to have been one of a number of sculptures on display in the long gallery of the house”

There are few physical tests that could be performed to confirm identity on a piece of stone. You could only date the age of the stone not the date it was carved but I suspect they (British Museum and Christies) did not try that. I suspect it was judged on artistic style. Now actually the period the faker chose to copy is very distinctive but other periods are notoriously difficult to date on style. For example in the 25th/26th dynasty (Late Period) there was a huge revival of Old Kingdom styles and there are some uninscribed statues that have been dated and redated several times between those two periods, which are actually about 2000 years apart. But this period, so called Amarna, it very unique and unusual so you could date it by style fairly accurately.

However rather interestingly some total amateurs identified some inconsistencies “The only thing I noticed is part of the wig. This does not seem to be a wig regularly worn by Nefertiti (although there are images of her in a tri-partite wig). I wonder if that’s why they tend to identify the figure as a daughter.” and another poster said “Next to the ‘striding’ the statue seems ‘turned’. Like not completely ‘fixed’ as usual. I don’t know precisely how to say that, but if u look at the waist, she seems to be in motion or something. Much alike Greek statues. It might be the photograph or the damage, but it looks weird.” And this was in 2004 two years before it was identified as a fake.

I think people were also seduced by its historic importance as a possible relation to Tutankhamen and got more excited than they should have. It was a huge coup for a small museum like Bolton to have such an important piece.

Eventually, after the court case, Bolton got it back. Obviously Bolton could have suffered by paying a lot of money for a fake but rather cleverly they turned it round by actually hosting a complete exhibition of fakes so in fact it became more of a draw to visitors. Bolton Council’s assistant director of adult and community services, Stephanie Crossley, said: “After much publicity around the Amarna Princess, we are pleased to be able to display the statue as part of an informative exhibition which educates the public about forgers rather than glamorises crime.”

The end result was Bolton Museum did not suffer at all. They got loads of publicity over a period of years which brought them to the wider attention of the public and got them even more visitors.

The general public benefited by having this art style brought to their attention and this period in history and Bolton Museum; much more than a simple acquisition would have done, with the added benefit of learning all about fakes.


You can learn a lot from a fake.