At the end of September, the Obama administration made a show of returning to the Iranian people what was claimed to be a 2,700-year old Iranian artifact. But recent evidence suggests that the artifact is a forgery that can only be traced back as far as the year 1999.
On September 28, CNN reported that the return of a silver griffin chalice–or rhyton–was “a new token of friendship between the United States and Iran.”
In its report, CNN touted the return of the rhyton, coupled with recent calls between Obama and the new President of Iran, as part of a new campaign of “winning hearts” being initiated by President Obama.
It would be a sign of magnanimity if the US government was to return a long lost artifact to its land of origin, but it seems that this particular artifact is more likely a fake. It is becoming widely accepted that the silver rhyton is a forgery that dates back only to 1999.
Forging faux ancient artifacts is big business, and these forgers have been ripping off collectors and museums for generations. This particular piece seems to fit that pattern.
The rhyton first came to the US government’s attention in 2003 after being confiscated by the Department of Homeland Security during an arrest of an Iranian-Swiss art dealer who was importing it to the US. DHS charged the man with falsely claiming the artifact came from Syria, whereas DHS insisted it was originally from Iran.
The importer eventually received a sentence of a year’s probation. A $5,000 fine was also imposed upon him.
Since then, the piece had been in DHS lockup until this year when the administration decided to make a show of returning it to Iran.
But a definitive study of artifact raises questions as to its authenticity.
On page 14 of the report by retired Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Oscar White Muscarella, the piece is reported as a fake. Muscarella says, the “silver forgery of a griffin vessel is generously equipped with three funnels, one in an unsuitable place for an ancient object, but appropriate in the modern world. It is a failed attempt by its modern creator to make it look ancient Iranian.”
Writing of the artifact, Alex Joffe says that the design of the item “has no parallels in the ancient world” except among other items revealed as forgeries.