My Internship on the Forging Antiquity Project for 2018

Last year I had the opportunity to work as a research intern on the ARC Discovery Project, ‘Forging Antiquity: Authenticity, forgery and fake papyri’ through the Macquarie University PACE program with A/Prof. Malcolm Choat and Dr. Rachel Yuen-Collingridge. This internship exposed me to a wide range of forged manuscripts and allowed me to develop new and existing research skills.

The first forgeries I examined were papyri from the University of Michigan collection. They appeared to be in Greek, but I struggled to make any sense of them. I was relieved to learn soon after that these particular texts were nonsensical and were made to only superficially resemble Greek documents. I learned that many forgeries of this kind were produced and included in auction lots of papyri in Egypt during the 19th and early 20th centuries to enhance their perceived value. I spent much of my time working on the database squinting at high resolution images of papyri, observing fibre direction and searching for traces of ancient ink. I had to consult a wide range of printed and digital papyrological media (occasionally written in Italian, French, Russian or German). By the end of the internship, research assistant Vanessa Mawby and I had collected data for 180 forgeries. Among these were compositions and copied texts written on a variety of materials in Greek, Demotic, Hieratic and Coptic.

Database meeting

My second task was to transcribe one of Constantine Simonides’ forged biblical manuscripts. While Simonides’ hand was relatively easy to read, the text was severely worn or missing in many places. Simonides often misjudges the size of lacunae, including or omitting too much of the text. This was an excellent opportunity, and indeed my first, to study a manuscript in detail, taking into consideration its paleography, materiality and layout.

My final task was to prepare a display and catalogue description for a suspected forgery in the Macquarie collection for the exhibition ‘Faking It: Forgeries and artefacts in dialogue.’ MU2893 is a marble votive tabula ansata commemorating the thanksgiving of a certain Marcus Valerius Parthenius to Urania. If authentic, it likely dates to the third or fourth century CE. In addition to producing arguments for and against its authenticity, I investigated its acquisition and publication history and the market history of tabulae ansatae more generally. Finally, I considered the ethical implications of the item’s purchase on the antiquities market.

As an intern with the project, it was my great pleasure to attend the conference ‘Manuscripts from the Margins: How to edit a forgery’ and the subsequent public day of lectures ‘Faking It’ (Sept. 20–22, 2018). I was pleased to learn more about the increasingly sophisticated methods of today’s forgers, namely their recycling and simulation of ancient mediums. I was inspired by the argument that unprovenanced texts should be flagged as potential forgeries in future editions and avoided by scholars in the formulation of historical arguments.

Of all the lessons I took away from the internship, the most important one was the (often-overlooked) cultural value of forgeries. The finest examples are works of great skill, knowledge and creativity. More importantly, they often offer fascinating insight into how learned individuals and/or their communities have imagined the distant past.

Mark Matic

Student Internships on the ‘Forging Antiquity’ Project

In Session 2 2019, five research internships will be offered to Bachelor of Philosophy (Masters of Research year 1) students at Macquarie University on two research projects based in the Department of Ancient History. Four internships are being offered on the Australian Research council project “Forging Antiquity: Authenticity, forgery and fake papyri“, and one in the new ARC project “Ancient Egyptian papyri: unlocking secrets to the history of writing“.

In each of these internships, students will work as part of the Forging Antiquity team investigating an aspect of the history of the forgery of ancient artefacts, especially papyri an other manuscripts.

Internships are being offered in the following aspects of the project:

Interns will work one day a week with the team, undertaking research on a project which will contribute to the larger project goals. Descriptions of the tasks to be undertaken, the goals, and the expected outcomes for each internship may be found in the links above. For some internships we are seeking specific skills (such as knowledge of particular languages), but for the most part they are open to students across the Faculty of Arts and indeed the University. We love diverse teams of researchers with different skills and backgrounds, so if you’re interested in working with us, please do contact us.

Further information can be found at the links above. Applications close on the 14th of June 2019, but interested students should contact A/Prof. Malcolm Choat (email, phone 9850 7561) as soon as possible.