YOU ARE HERE:>> REAL or FAKE>Eye idols of Tell Brak, section 2, page 2


On previous pages I tried to point out the characteristics often shown on fakes of this  type of artefact.

Here is one offered for sale which nicely illustrates these characteristics.

The seller honestly believes it is ancient.

The seller writes......


This is it.

Take a closer look.

And the surface.....

The Eye-Idols were first discovered in the 1937 and 1938 spring excavations at Tell Brak by Sir Max Mallowan and his team  in the four strata of the Eye Temple complex at the southern end of the tell.

Excavations at the site ended in 1939, but the onset of the second world war delayed the writing up and publication of the findings until 1947, when Mallowan published 'Excavations at Brak and Chagar Bazar ' It was in this report that Eye-Idols made their first appearance in the literature.

The artifacts from Mallowan's excavations are now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the National Museum of Aleppo and in the British Museum's collection.

There are now certainly more fakes, forgeries and reproductions on the market  than have ever been found in archaeological contexts.

May 2019


Quite a few fake eye idols on the market at the moment .

All these from the same seller more or less at the same time.

He appears, as with the seller above, to honestly believe that they are ancient.

I disagree however; though I'm not saying that I believe all these are fakes: only some of them.



I do not mean to impugn this sellers name: I simply state an opinion about authenticity which runs counter to his opinion.

I am here commenting upon this seller's knowledge and expertise not his ethics.

I do appreciate that some of these are well made forgeries, with care taken to make them look very old and that someone who does not know much about ancient artefacts would not have much reason to believe them being modern creations. That is afterall why I am showing them here!

Disagreement in academic matters is not all that unusual but it is only through debating and testing evidence about such matters that useful knowledge advances.

If the seller of these pieces would care to advance evidence and argument in favour of their authenticity I would be delighted to host it here.

Several here bear anomalies which strongly suggest they are from the same maker.

As with the example above, the eyes themselves betray many of them.

There are no archaeologically attested examples where the eyes are formed in this way. I refer any interested reader to the very extensive work of Leonard Gorelick and John Gwinnett concerning lapidary tools and tools marks  much of whose experimental and observational work covers the time period and geography of these artefacts.



The particularly relevant literature which  contributes to the authentication  of this type of artefact on both stylistic and technical/manufacturing grounds  is given at the foot of  this page.



The museum collections where the larger number of examples can be seen are as below.

Many examples can be found online of course.

I have saved very many hundreds of images of Eye Idols, from online resources and from photographing them at different museums .

  • Aleppo National Museum, Syria
  • The British Museum, London.
  • The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
  • And notably, The Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney, Australia.

 More from the same seller. These raise interesting issues about this type of artefact. Firstly, what types of material were these made from?

This seller describes several as being terracotta despite the pieces looking to be in stone. He could be confusing these with the (essentially unrelated) spectacle idol type as many of those types of artefact are indeed terracotta.

It is interesting to note that Mallowan himself  wrote in 1938 that some Eye Idols were 'made of clay' but actually all examples originally noted as 'clay' have been reviewed and are in fact dark gypsum examples, some of which may have been burnt to achieve a darker colour.

And the dating of these?

This seller notes these as 'Circa 6000 BCE'. I suspect that the seller's reading of the relevant literature was only cursory.

It is the case the  main mound of Tell Brak was occupied from at least 6000 BC but the strata where  these artefacts have been found are much later. It is to be admitted that Mallowan himself wrote in 1938 in  recognising that dating was problematic 'greater margins of error in dating material before 2000 BCE' but  it is generally agreed that these interesting artefacts  date from the Late Uruk period 3300 BC - 3000 BC. 

There is indeed some speculation and evidence to push the dating of the Eye Temple a little further back into  the first half of the 4th millennium BC , to about 3700 BC but certainly not as early as 6000 BC!  There were at least five phases of Eye Temple construction of which the latest in the series can now be dated around 3400 BC .The academic arguments about the chronology of the  Uruk and of the Jemdet Nasr periods is central to this debate but that said no authority  has ever averred that any Eye Idols date to the Ubaid period! They are pretty old but not 8000 years old!

References with particular relevance to authenticating these artefacts on stylistic grounds.

(Mallowan and later Breniquet have offered useful typologies)


Du Fil A Retordre. Reflexions Sur LesIdoles Aux Yeux Et Les Fileuses De

L’époque D'Uruk. Collectanea Orientalia 3. By C Bréniquet. 1996.

Eye Idol BM 126492 from Tell Brak, Northern Syria: The Iconography and function of

Eye Idols and the motif of the Eye in Uruk Period Syria, and Mesopotamia. The University of Sydney. A Cooper. 2015.

The Eyes Have It: An In-Depth Study of the Tell Brak Eye Idols in the 4th Millennium BCE: with a primary focus on function and meaning. A Cooper PhD Thesis  University of Sydney, 2018

 Excavations at Tell Brak 2000: Preliminary Report. Iraq 63:2154. G  Emberling, and H. McDonald. 2001

Excavations at Tell Brak 2001-2002: Preliminary Report. Iraq 65:1-75. G  Emberling,2003.

Excavations at Brak and Chagar Bazar. Iraq 9:1-87+9-259+i-iv. 1956. Mallowan, M.E.L. 1947

Twenty-Five Years of Mesopotamian Discovery (1932-1956). London: The British School of Archaeology in Iraq. M.E.L Mallowan, 1947.

Early Mesopotamia and Iran. London: Thames and Hudson. M.E.L Mallowan 1965

Alabaster Eye-Idols from Tell Brak, North Syria. In Les Mélanges de l'Université Saint- Joseph XLV. M.E.L Mallowan 1969 

Tell Brak: a stratigraphic summary, Oates D & J 1976–1993

Amulets, Symbols, or Idols? Iraq 12 (2):139-46. E D Van Buren, 1950.

New Evidence concerning an Eye-Divinity. Iraq 17 (2):164-75. E D Van Buren 1955.


References with particular relevance to authenticating these artefacts on manufacturing and technical issues.


A Technical Study of the Eye-Idols from Tell Brak, North Syria. Institute of Archaeology, London. Timothy Matney, Thesis. Institute of Archaeology, London 1987 Timothy Matney is now Professor in the department at the University of Akron.


There are many publications by Leonard Gorelick and John Gwinnett but these below are probably the most directly relevant here.


Forgery determination by functional analysis. Materials Research Society Symposium Proceedings 267: 1992.

Ancient lapidary: a study using scanning electron microscopy. Expedition 22: 17-32, 1979.

Functional analysis of drilling using scanning electron microscopy. Annali 41: 327-335, 1981.

The change from stone drills to copper drills in bronze age Mesopotamia: an experimental perspective. Expedition 29: 15-24, 1987

History of drills and drilling. N.Y. State Dent. J. 53: 35-39, 1987.

Technical mutations in drilling. Akkadica 74: 37-48, 1991.

Beads, scarabs and amulets: methods of manufacture in ancient. Egypt. J. An. Res. Cent. 30: 125-132, 1993.

Evidence for technological improvements in ancient seal manufacture. PACT 23: 13, 1990-1993

Even more ridiculous! (A different seller entirely)

A fair amount of car has gone into making new creations look ancient.


More useful things to know about fake Eye Idols .....>>>>>>>>next page