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What to look out for.


  • The surface texture of the fake pieces is seemingly sprayed with clay, becoming usually coarse & bumpy. Genuine 2nd millennium B.C. Syrian terracotta is made from a very fine, smooth clay.
  • The colour of the clay in fakes is usually wrong. Many of Hittite/Syrian fakes are made from a orange or yellow clay. Genuine Syrian objects should be made from a pale gray clay. Some genuine Hittite objects from Anatolia were made from a pale yellow clay, but either way avoid the oranges and yellows.
  • Fakers do sometimes use the correct colour clay but their understanding of the iconography is incorrect. The hands should either cover the breasts or be placed directly below them. On some of these commonly seen elongated fakes the hands are placed too low, either on the belly or pubic region.
  • The similar zoomorphic figurines are plentiful and invariably fake. A great deal of inventiveness goes into the creation of these fakes and you will see extremely elaborate pieces....which are invariably fakes


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!!!





   From Jason 


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!


  From Jason 


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

political climate.)


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!






By Maharichie


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..


I agree!

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. 



And more

   From Jason

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

on eBay.


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 and right

now . There is also this more general work by Muscarella


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

it off:

(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

Syro-Hittite figurines.



     From William

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.



From Jason

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




And yet more ridiculous>>>>>