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What to look out for.
Below, the image on the left shows a reasonably well crafted piece but it's the wrong colour.
The other image shows a very "wrong" surface.
But is it "wrong" ???
What do you think of this Syro-Hittite piece ?
( Though to my eye it looks more like the type found in Cyprus)
These images (Above) are offered by worsjor1
for your consideration
Here are some of the most awful fakes currently available!
They are priced between $250 and $900 and they all come with a Certificate of Aunthenticity!!!
I've been out of the loop for a few days and I hadn't had time to
respond to Tom and Armand's comments about the prevalence of Astarte
figures until now. (For convenience's sake, I'll call the figures in
question "Astarte figures" although that term encompasses a much
broader body of terracotta figures than just these bird-headed pillar
figures.) Tom made this comment in message 14889:
"How can it be that ONLY clay
pieces from this culture are to find in masses on the market. Where
are all other pieces from this culture - specialy metall objects
that are easyer to find with a detector?"
The first problem is assuming that we can place these Astarte figures
into a single cultural origin over a set period. This form of figure
emerged around 2800 B.C. and disappeared around 1500 B.C., but it's a
part of a 8000+ year old tradition of terracotta figures in the Near
East that evolved and cut across cultures and regions. My point is
that we see these figures originating from a big enough area over a
long enough period of time that we shouldn't be surprised to see
*some* variation and a sizable quantity in production.
Why should they be more prevalent than metal objects that are more
easily found by metal detectors? One reason is simply the ease of
construction compared to a metal object, especially considering most
Astartes originate in and around Syria, where metal objects didn't
survive quite as readily as they did further east in drier climates.
Another reason is that Astarte figures were common household objects
produced in bulk, not cult center rarities. Third, while shady dealers
like to make up elaborate stories about the votive destruction of
these objects, the truth is that they are frequently found broken and
in big numbers in ancient refuse piles. (This has been a big obstacle
to studying how and why they were used -- they are VERY rarely found
in other contexts.) But, like any other household object, when a
figure broke it went out with the rest of the garbage. It seems
sacreligious or illogical to think of an ancient venerating an idol
one moment and tossing out its pieces as trash in the next, but this
discomfort is largely us still imposing our own hangups on
interpreting an ancient religion. In short, these figures were easily
made, non-elite products that would have been present in most homes
and would have accumulated over time in designated refuse sites of
towns and villages.
That said, Tom is absolutely correct when he points out that (a) most
of the figures available for sale today are fakes, and (b) many of the
remaining genuine figures feature extensive repair/restoration.
Remember that finding these figures in bulk usually only occurs at
refuse sites, meaning that most will have been broken and fragmentary.
There's frankly a very fine line between restoring a figure in good
faith and making a silly fake; I've seen a number of figures on eBay
that looked to include genuine parts (e.g., heads) grafted onto some
very fantastic modern bodies clearly intended to inflate the price.
Shy of virtually doubling the average price of one of these figures by
opting for a TL test (which would be worthless without multiple
surface samples), your only option is to become as familiar as
possible with published examples and hold out for a good piece. Keep
your eye on the top-tier auctions, wait for a decent provenance and
stay away from the eBay dealers who offer dozens of intact, pristine
Near Eastern terracottas every month!
I would advise that you don't buy Tel Halaf idols from anyone!
Sorry to be a wet blanket, but they are rare
finds in the published, provenanced literature, yet they have
inexplicably flooded the market in the past three years to the point
that the price has dropped to ridiculously low levels on an object
that would formerly have gone for thousands. (For example, a Tel Halaf
idol went for $1600 from Christies in 1999, but most on eBay are lucky
to break $200.) Unfortunately, it's quite difficult to authenticate
these figures aside from the REALLY bad fakes, so you wind up with a
hunk of clay that took a forger all of five minutes to make...and it
would cost you 3x the price you paid for a TL test to prove it. Not a
bad racket on the forger's part. (Even if you want to be REALLY
generous and extend the benefit of the doubt, the sheer quantity of
figures on the market dictates that many are smuggled, and you don't
want anything to do with sketchy Near Eastern art in the current
Don't mean to rant, but I'm tired and I'm sick of seeing smart people
who should know better selling questionable terracotta figures when
it's patently obvious that many are fake!
This double headed example is submitted by Maharichie with the comment This is very similar to the one you have on your fake page. This one however is quite grey in color and very smooth with a partially fine granulated surface. What do you think?
Comments very welcome!
By Jason from yahoo group
A response to someone on the group
Buy a can of Play-doh and try your hand at one of the pillar figures on Bron's site, using a fork to do the detailing:
Takes 10 minutes to make a faithful recreation, plus baking if actually made from clay. Or start simpler with a Tel Halaf female or a Tel Barak eye idol -- you don't even need the fork! Ben can attest to fakers in Egypt speed-carving fake steatite scarabs at about 10 decent fakes per day, but those guys are not skilled compared to their Syrian counterparts working in terracottas..
Trying to make the things informs one a great deal.
Ben has encouraged me to buy a Dremel kit and find some appropriate lumps of soap stone. If and when I can display experimental creations with clearly visible lessons , I will.
In the meanwhile, if anyone else has such pieces , please get in touch.
Forgers of Syrian terracottas still haven't learned the difference between
legitimate artifacts that are primitive/unrefined versus fakes that
are just plain sloppy. The arms and hands are especially bad here, and
would be troublesome even if the texture of the clay on them wasn't
completely different from the rest of the body. Plus real two-headed
figures are not that common despite the 15+ per month that I note
You have to look at a lot of Syrian terracottas before the bad ones
stand out easily.
"Ladders to Heaven: Art Treasures from the Lands of the Bible" before is a
great book on Near Eastern art in general, and there are a few copies
selling cheap ($30s) on www.abebooks.com and www.alibris.com right
now . There is also this more general work by Muscarellahttp://www.sumerian.org/undcat.htm
Moorey, PRS (2005). Ancient Near Eastern terracottas with a catalogue
of the collection in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
This is the bound version (finally) of the text that has been
available in .pdf format for some time online. Either buy it or print
(You'll want the Bronze Age, Syria section for the type of figure in
Moorey, PRS (2004). Idols of the People: Miniature Images of Clay in
the Ancient Near East.
NOT a photo reference, but a good, approachable collection of three
talks that help with interpretating the significance and meaning of
I have also placed some new info on the previous page about
28th March 2006
Regarding the iconography of these items. is it really that strict, or does it not have variations. I was thinking about the syro hitite Astarte items and their hand possisions.
There is considerable variation in Syrian bird-faced idols. Broadly
speaking, earlier figures (ie, 2800-2400 BC) have a pillar shape and more recent figures (ie, 2200-1750 BC) are flat and cruciform.
There are also consistent differences between figures produced at different town sites, and some major differences within some town sites that may reflect changing preferences over time, or trade or cultural influence with neighboring towns.
IMO, there actually isn't enough variation in the examples seen on the market right now. Virtually everything conforms to shapes from Tell Selenkahiye. Granted, I would expect a lopsided distribution because many of the provenanced figures in print come from Selenkahiye, but 1) the area was flooded and the town has been at the bottom of the Tabqa reservoir for about 30 years now, and 2) we never see figures attributable to any of the many other towns that made them.
There is a small but interesting pdf you can download from here.
2nd December 2005
A new variety of forgery appears on eBay
More and more ridiculous...
23rd April 06
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