A FORGED TOMB

I AM indebted to Dr. G. A. Reisner for the following story and
incidents, and for others which are incorporated in the earlier chapters
of this book.

“It was in the summer of 1902, I think, that a couple of young men from
the west bank of the Nile at Thebes visited a dealer in antiquities
whose shop is in Luxor. After general conversation, coffee drinking, and
so forth, they finally asked the proprietor if he wished to buy any
antiquities.

“‘Certainly,’ he said, ‘if they are genuine.’

“‘Will you believe they are genuine if you see them in position in the
tomb in which they were found?’ they asked.

“‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘Have you got a tomb?’

“They said they had, and made arrangements to take him to it at
midnight, two or three nights later.

“When the night and the hour came, they met at the appointed place and
proceeded towards the tomb. On the road there was a fierce whispered
alarm that the guards were coming, and the party scattered in all
directions. The next night a second appointment was made, and this time
the party reached the entrance to the tomb. The doorway was blocked up,
except for a small hole, and sealed with what seemed to be ancient
mud-plaster. They tore down this block and entered the tomb, a large
rock-cut chamber, literally filled with antiquities—stelæ, ushebti,
coffins, vases, and other objects, apparently covered with the dust of
ages.

[Illustration: PLATE XIV. A PIECE OF MUMMY CASE. This is new wood made
up to represent a part of a genuine mummy case.]

“The party then adjourned to Luxor to discuss the price. The dealer
finally bought the lot for something like £600, and was obliged to raise
a mortgage on some property in order to get the money. After great
difficulties in avoiding the guards, the objects were finally
transferred from the tomb to the dealer’s house in Luxor. The summer
passed in pleasant dreams of winter profits, and finally the first
Museum buyer arrived on the scene. The dealer selected a stone from the
purchased lot, and carried it round to the house of a friend where the
Egyptologist happened to be engaged in negotiations for the purchase of
some antiquities. The dealer called his friend to the door, and asked
him to show the stelæ to the buyer. His friend smiled and said, ‘It is a
forgery.’

“The dealer laughed in derision, and insisted on the stone being shown
to the expert, who took one look at it and said, ‘Rank forgery.’

“The dealer, who had found this in what seemed to be an untouched tomb,
now became thoroughly alarmed. At his request, his friend and the
Egyptologist went to his house to inspect all the objects from the tomb.
They were all forgeries, and the dealer had been swindled out of his
£600 by a cleverly-planned trick of the west bank forgers.”

* * * * *

The Egyptians who are engaged in the making of spurious antiquities are
now specialising. One man in Luxor has perfected the manufacture of
glazed or faience vessels. Another at Qeneh has developed the cutting
and inscription of stone scarabs. At Aboutig a forger makes woodwork and
carved ivories, and somewhere in Egypt they are making stone vessels of
all periods, apparently on a steam lathe, but copying the ancient forms
with great success. A dealer in Cairo once showed me an enormous head of
Amenemhat III., which he said was offered to him as coming from Tanis.
This must have been the work of European stone-masons. It was cut from a
single large boulder of sandstone, an exact copy of the existing
portraits of that king, but the cutting had been done with modern
stone-masons’ tools, the marks of which were plainly visible, even
without a glass.

“On another occasion,” Dr. Reisner tells us, “I was once looking through
the stock of a dealer, now dead. Suddenly I caught sight in the back of
a drawer of what appeared to be a Babylonian object. The dealer, who
happened to know that I have some knowledge of Babylonian antiquities,
was very reluctant to show me the object, protesting openly that it was
a forgery. I persuaded him, however, and he produced a dozen or more
very beautifully made Babylonian sculptures, but all perfectly
impossible. He said that he received them from a Persian, an agent who
came through Cairo every year, and left him a certain number of pieces
to sell on commission. I tried to buy one of these pieces, offering even
as high as £5 for it, against the £40 he demanded, but he refused. When
I came back in the spring, he told me with a grin that he had sold them
all at his own price to various travellers.

“I afterwards learned the forger’s name, and that he lived in Baghdad,
from an excavator who had been working in Mesopotamia. This man also
forged cuneiform tablets, and I have seen examples of his work in other
shops in Cairo besides the one I have mentioned. He first began his
forgery of the cuneiform tablets by making moulds of the two sides,
pressing clay into the moulds and sticking the two halves together
before baking. These forgeries were always discernible by the
shallowness of the little wedges of which the writing is composed. This
seems to have been pointed out to him, for after a time he began going
over these tablets with a pointed stick before baking, and thus
deepening the wedges. Finally, with the practice thus gained, he even
went so far as to copy tablets freehand; and I know of at least one
large tablet in a European museum which he made freehand without any
tablet to copy from. It has all the appearance of one of the great
tablets from the temple at Telloh, but the writing has no meaning.”

AS I have already said, the majority of the makers of forged antiquities
are to be found among the very adaptable “up-river men.”

At Qus lives the maker of gold reproductions. Most of the wooden
forgeries come from Gurna and the scarabs from Luxor. In the villages
near to Deir-el-Bahari are made the porcelain vases and figures, whence
come also the stone heads and statuettes. A number of composition
figures are made in the Delta, and may be met with at Zagazig and Benha.

A few years ago the forgers used to make and sell their own work, but
now that they are becoming rich and rising in the social scale they are
content to leave the selling part of the business to others and
themselves stay at home to carry on the making of further imitations.

In appearance they are tall, broad-shouldered men with keen, clever
faces and long soft fingers, direct descendants of the ancient
Egyptians, with very dark skins, thin lips and persuasive manners.

One member of the family usually leaves his village in the month of
October, and with his bundles of carefully wrapped up reproductions
drifts lazily down the Nile on a trading boat. Arrived at Cairo, he
takes up his quarters with a friend, and the next day may be seen in one
of the principal streets with his hands full of strings of beads and his
pockets bulging with some of the results of the summer’s work.

Dressed in a dark blue galabeyah, with a white turban and red slippers,
he makes an imposing figure. He has a smattering of various languages,
in which “Real antīcas, gentleman,” looms large. Also he has an intimate
knowledge of the various coinages and generally manages to come out on
the right side in making a deal—at least, I never heard of one who owned
to the contrary. He possesses largely the gift of perseverance and is
like a sleuth-hound in tracking down a possible purchaser. In this he is
assisted by the bowabs and servants, many of whom are his own
blood-relations or friends.

It must be remembered that most of the servants in Egypt are Berberines,
from Nubia, and as the cultivable land up the Nile is in places reduced
to a few hundred yards, and travelling by boat is cheap, it will be seen
that the men can easily get to know each other well even though miles of
the Nile waterway may separate the villages.

But the “up-river man” is not the only itinerant seller of antiquities.
A donkey boy may have found out that he can make more money by selling
antīcas to his patrons than he can by running after his donkey, even
though the bakshīsh be included; so he ponders over this until it
becomes an obsession and fills his thoughts day and night. No longer
will he remain a donkey boy, he determines; he has a good arbeyah or
cloak and decent slippers, and a long black cloak will hide a multitude
of unwashedness.

Visions of untold wealth spread themselves out before him. A man he has
heard of got £12,000 for a papyrus, and £40 for a gold-mounted scarab is
an ordinary price. By a merciful dispensation, Allah has given the
Nazarenes into the hands of the Faithful. So he chooses riches; for,
after all, money means strength and honour in his village, and
perhaps—who knows?—one or more wives who will be beautiful as the houris
of Paradise of whom he heard the Mullah discourse in the mosque only the
last Friday. The prospect is dazzling and fills the boy’s brain. Rich
and powerful, men will look up to him with respect, he will possess
feddans of land and children will rise up around him.

He clasps his hands and looks at a donkey distastefully. Did he ever run
miles across the desert behind such uncleanliness? Why, even Allah had
named it “ass,” which means, as he has been told, “a fool” in the
language of those who buy antīcas. Why had he slumbered and why had his
eyes been shut in the past? Here was wealth, only waiting for him to
seize it. It was not too late; he would force fortune to come to him.

So thinking, the boy sat gazing with unseeing eyes at the scene before
him. Girls passed and giggled. “He hath seen an Afrit,” said one. “Nay,
a woman hath cast her eyes on him,” said another. He heard and frowned,
then bending forward, took up a stone and threw it at a passing dog. The
yelp of pain brought him back from the dream world. His resolve was
taken; he would become an antīca-seller and, “Inshallah,” might perhaps
reap fortune at one swoop.

So the plunge is taken, the summer is spent in gathering together his
materials and arranging to sell for others on commission; and the
following season the erstwhile donkey boy, his pockets bulging with
small tin boxes containing his wares, haunts the neighbourhood of the
hotels where live the buyers of antiquities.

Genuine antiquities are few and not to be had without considerable
outlay, so in the boxes mixed with the real fragments lie the
imitations.

It was just such a boy as this who came to my notice some years ago, and
one day I saw him arrested by the police and conveyed to the Caracol
(police station). Upon making inquiries I was informed that he had been
taken up for annoying people by pestering them to buy scarabs. Later in
the day I saw him leaning disconsolately against a wall outside the
Caracol.

“Well, how much have you to pay?” I asked.

“Fifteen piastres” (about three shillings), was his reply. “Or”—and he
shrugged his shoulders—“or I stay three days in prison.”

“Have you paid the money?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I have none.”

Now this was untrue, for, otherwise, how could he give change to
purchasers?—and these boys will rarely risk losing a sale for the want
of change. This I pointed out to him, and spoke of the shame, but he
shook his head obstinately. Prison has no taint for these men, it is
merely an incident in the day’s work. On the following morning, when he
was to surrender, I saw him again, his pockets no longer bulging, his
clothes clean washed, his cloak brushed, and wearing his new red
slippers. He was going to prison.

Calling him to me, I handed over the amount of the fine, saying, “Go and
pay it at once and get to work again.” The boy looked sullenly at the
three shillings; it was a lot of money to give to the prison
authorities, and that was not the way to get rich. Then he saluted and
walked away.

After three days he returned and asked to see me. Solemnly he produced a
piece of dirty rag, untied it, and handed me back the three shillings.

“What is this?” I asked.

The boy grinned. “Well you see, sir, when I got to the prison, the
officer who takes the money had gone away. I waited there for one day,
and then he came back. When I pay the money I give him two shillings,
but he look at a paper and say ‘Three.’ I say ‘No; three shillings or
three days in prison. You were away when I come. I stop here one day,
and here are two shillings.’ He say, ‘No, three.’ Then I wrap up the
money and stay two more days in prison; after that I come out, and here
is your money.”

Obviously there was only one thing to be done, and he departed with a
broad smile and the conviction that he had done a good day’s work. One
cannot help feeling that such a boy ought to succeed.

On another occasion I saw the same youth strolling about his village
when I knew that he should have been in prison for a contravention of
the law. Calling him, I inquired how this came about.

“I have business in my village,” he said, “so my brother he come to the
prison and take my place. I give the policeman one shilling, I come out
to do my business, then go back again.”

Let me say that this took place years ago, and I do not think he would
get out of prison so easily now; but even quite recently I heard of a
sale of antiquities running into hundreds of pounds, one of the parties
to the transaction being in prison at the time.

* * * * *

Then there are the more prosperous sellers with their feet firmly set in
the path to fortune, who combine the selling of forged antiquities with
dealings in the real articles. Sometimes a dragoman varies his
legitimate business by bringing before the notice of his party
antiquities which he declares are genuine, or introduces a seller, who
at the conclusion of the bargain hands over to the dragoman a fair
percentage of the spoils. His part in the transaction may be limited to
the introduction of the seller and the assurance that “This man very
good man, dig in the tombs, lady. Don’t be afraid, he very honest.”

Lastly there is the polished seller, tired of mien, suave of manner and
high in price, producing only upon pressure his store of treasures.
Apparently casual about selling anything, he is probably the most
dangerous, for if no business is done, one leaves him feeling very mean,
and conscious of having committed an offence in doubting the
authenticity of the articles shown by him.

Nor does the silence of your guide on the way home tend to relieve the
feeling of oppression and smallness, until perhaps by some good fortune
one meets a man who knows; then the feeling changes to one of relief at
the escape and wrathfulness at the attempt that has been made to swindle
you.

IT would not, perhaps, be out of place to make some special reference to
the men who are doing so much to throw light upon the thoughts and lives
of the old Egyptians; but here is need to tread as warily as may be, for
these are a race apart. Charming companions they are, delightful hosts,
brilliant guests, generous and painstaking to a degree when once you
have presented your card and asked to be shown around. So clever are
they that after a time one learns wisdom, and refrains from advancing
theories in their presence as to how the old Egyptians cut and worked
their diorite, granite, and other hard stones: what lights they used
when making and painting the tombs in the Valley of the Kings: or what
system of mechanics they employed in raising blocks of stone weighing
many tons to the tops of the Pyramids, 480 feet up: if it was an
inclined plane, cradles, or levers, or what it was? These men have seen
many workmen hard put to it to pull a small granite statue weighing
three or four tons up an inclined plane of less than 45 degrees. And yet
what wonderful patience and courtesy most of these experts show to
well-meaning but ignorant questioners, even when they are perhaps
burning to be free to turn back more pages of hidden history.

There is something about them which seems strange to new-comers.
Perhaps, indeed probably, it is the inhalation and absorption of the
desiccated and pulverised remains of the ancient Egyptians which
influences them. Every one knows that the dust from tombs produces
irritation of the air passages, and possibly this also accounts for the
divergence of opinion among them; for never yet have I known two
Egyptologists agree absolutely upon a given subject. I have heard a
story that two savants read an inscription, the one beginning from right
to left, and the other from left to right, and both made sense of it.

[Illustration: PLATE XV. BEADS AND MUMMY CLOTH. 1. Forged Roman beads.
2. Egyptian blue beads. 3. Genuine mummy cloth recently painted. 4.
Sacred cats, with genuine mummy beads.]

I was somewhat surprised recently by the remarks of a learned friend to
me.

“You are getting more and more like an Egyptian. I notice the change
every time I see you,” he said. It may be so, although the idea is
startling. We know that Continents produce types, of which fact a good
example is America. Then add to this the daily dose of ancient Egyptian
remains, and the mystery is one no longer, but the effect becomes
possible if not probable. Among the savants some of the old
characteristics reappear to-day. Listen to the speech of Amenemhat to
his son, Sesostris, during the twelfth dynasty.

“Hearken to that which I say to thee,
That thou mayest be King of the earth,
That thou mayest be ruler of the lands,
That thou mayest increase good.
Harden thyself against all subordinates;
The people give heed to him who terrorises them;
Approach them not alone.
Fill not thy heart with a brother;
Know not a friend,
Nor make for thyself intimates,
Wherein there is no end.
When thou sleepest, guard for thyself thine own heart,
For a man has no people
In the day of evil.
I gave to the beggar;
I nourished the orphan;
I admitted the insignificant,
As well as him who was of great account.
But he who ate my food made insurrection;
He to whom I gave my hand aroused fear therein.” (_Breasted._)

The spirit of these sayings creeps into the work, and excavators may be
trusted to keep their own counsel. They will take immense trouble and
pains in their explanations, and endeavour to render into popular
language the hieroglyphics, and the meanings of the dead past; but let
the ignorant only intrude upon a piece of their sacred earth, and “ice
is not in it with them.” Once, while going through some excavations, a
friend pointed out a small blue bead lying on the top of one of the low
mud walls which separate tomb from tomb. “Shall I steal it?” he asked.
Knowing the ways of excavators, I whispered a warning, “Better not.” A
few steps further on the excavator turned round and explained pointedly,
“Every article found in the diggings is taken note of; even a small
bead” (here he paused, and we felt uncomfortable) “is placed on the top
of the wall near where it was found, and is catalogued in its turn.”
After this little admonition upon righteousness, we walked thoughtfully
along, and my friend edged up to me. “Good job I did not steal it,” he
whispered. “I am perfectly certain he” (indicating the excavator) “did
not hear what I said to you, unless he has ears as well as eyes in the
back of his head.”

Excavators are, as a rule, extremely good judges of humanity. They know
that an ancient predatory instinct is present in most people of the
Anglo-Saxon race, and who knows how many short lectures on honesty that
one small blue bead gave rise to. But even excavators, or perhaps it is
more correct to say some of them, have their failings. They are apt to
look down from an immense height upon an amateur digger as something too
ignorant for words; and a pained look comes over their faces when you
mention the work done by So-and-so, and the conclusions to which he has
come. “What is the country coming to?” their expression seems to say.

But the excavators have their trials too. Sometimes a digger has been
working for weeks at some deep burial pit. Suppose now that “something”
has been found. Perhaps a door is about to be opened. At the critical
moment, some tourists appear on the scene. The unearthing or opening
must stop, for who knows what may be found, and the greatest care must
be taken to get full notes and photographic records, that nothing may be
lost. The afternoon passes, and night begins to come on. It is too late
now to open the find, it must wait, strongly guarded from thieves, till
to-morrow; and the excavator passes an uneasy night, pondering and
wondering what he will find, and saying evil things about those who
hindered him in his work.

I have been in the habit of showing my forged antiquities to
Egyptologists, not bumptiously, but humbly, and with a due knowledge of
my own colossal ignorance. The specimen would be passed across the table
in silence, accompanied by a magnifying glass. The expert would frown
heavily, but the specimen and the glass would, in the end, prove
irresistible. As I produced scarabs made more perfect, a certain
uneasiness would be shown, and the question asked me, “Is this genuine
or not?” To this I would never reply otherwise than to say, “I should be
glad to have your opinion on the matter.” A very careful examination of
the specimen would follow, and the reasons for considering it to be a
forgery would be explained in terse plain language.

There is a certain disadvantage in collecting spurious antiquities and
getting expressions of opinion upon them; for after a time your
association with these forgeries causes an inclination in the expert to
condemn off-hand any specimen you may submit to him. To meet this
occasionally I would hand over a genuine scarab, which would be
detected, and inquiry made as to “what I was up to now, or whether I had
really bought this as a fraudulent antiquity?” Occasionally remarks
would be pointed, and expressed in the bluff way which “hides a heart of
gold.” This I always accepted humbly, conscious of my own inferiority.

These experts were goodness itself, and would spend hours over a close
examination of a specimen submitted to them. On one occasion, when
showing the figure seen on page 54, the excavator demanded “where on
earth” I had obtained it? Filled with the spirit of mischief, I refused
to answer, but dropped vague hints about black granite statues, life
size; at which he turned round, saying crossly, “Really, I believe you
are in league with every disreputable person in the country.” Modestly I
disclaimed this, and pointed out that I was actuated simply and solely
by a zeal for science. I asked him if he would be kind enough to read
the inscription upon the tablet before him. This he was unable to do
himself, but he made a copy which he took away for a friend to read. Day
after day went past, and the translation did not arrive. After about a
week or ten days, I reminded him, but for some reason or other, the
translation was not forthcoming. Weeks after, I learnt that my friend
had been afraid to hand the inscription to the man whom he knew could
read it, lest it should be a further trick on my part, and should
contain nothing more than a message of thanks from a grateful patient.

On another occasion I made an experiment as to whether my association
with modern forged antiquities would be sufficient to bias an expert in
expressing his opinion as to the genuineness of articles of known
antiquity submitted to him.

I obtained four specimens (_see_ Plate XVI), of undoubted antiquity,
although even these are examples made in or for Nubia about 3500 years
ago of Egyptian Funerary objects of New Empire period (reign of Thothmes
III).

The largest scarab is of very poor workmanship. The head, which took the
unusual form of a sphinx, was badly made and proportioned, and was
turned slightly to one side. The workmanship of the smaller scarab was
also poor. The sacred eye was well made, of a beautiful blue, and looked
as if it had only just left the workshop. The monkey was one of the most
startling things I have ever seen found in an excavation in Egypt. The
glaze was modern and the whole thing looked as if it had recently come
out of a cheap bazaar. But there can be no question about the
authenticity of these things, for they were found and taken out of the
graves by the archæologists of the Nubian Survey.

[Illustration: PLATE XVI. EXAMPLES FOUND IN NUBIA. 1. & 6. A steatite
monkey made 3,500 years ago. 2. Cheap ornament made five years ago. 3.
Sacred eye of beautiful colour. 4. & 5. Scarabs.]

On the mantelpiece of a house in Egypt stood a cheap ornament. This
appears in No. 2, side by side with the monkey found in Nubia. The
ancient specimen is much the better work, but the likeness between the
two is so strong as to be absolutely bewildering.

[When the ancient monkey vase was first found it was shown to an eminent
Egyptologist, not in the ordinary way as a valuable antiquity, but a few
matches were placed in it (_see_ No. 6), and it was put quietly upon the
table in front of him in the evening when the party were smoking.
However, he was not to be taken in, but at once recognised it as a
valuable antīca.]

Entering casually into conversation with my friend, I led up to the
subject of antiquities. He was expressing his views freely, and I waited
patiently. During a pause I slipped my hand into my pocket, brought out
one of the specimens and pushed it across the table towards him. A
scornful smile came over his face. “One of your forgeries, I suppose,”
he remarked. I said, “I should like to have your opinion on the object.”
He examined it carefully, and then laid it down. I passed another across
to him, and then the remaining two. One by one he discarded them, giving
it as his opinion that the large scarab was a forgery for the following
very sound reasons, bearing in mind the excellence of the old Egyptians’
work. The inscription, he said, was not very well done: the two holes on
the side were not usual in heart scarabs: the head was badly made and
turned to one side; the work on the feet was clumsy. The small scarab he
classed as imitation for the following reasons. The two antelopes are
supposed to be alike, but one is larger than the other, and has a larger
neck and ears. The branches of a tree over the back of the antelopes
were irregular in size, one being small and one large. A round eye
appears on the under surface of the scarab, which should have had a
duplicate on the opposite side. The back and head, he decided, were very
good.

The monkey, which was shown to him with a few matches placed in the
receptacle before it, was declared to be a shameless fraud, and he
wondered that I should take up my time in collecting such obvious
imitations. When he was shown the photograph which had been taken of a
common vase from the mantelpiece of a house, and compared it with the
specimen he was examining, he sarcastically inquired if I bought all my
antiquities in a cheap Jack’s booth at home. Meekly I produced the
sacred eye, which he would scarcely deign to look at, contemptuously
pushing it aside on account of a small white mark in the blue. “Have you
got any more?” he inquired. Modestly I said that I had not, when, with
some muttered remarks about the strangeness of the pursuits taken up by
people with more time on their hands than sense, he strode away.

There had gathered round us a little silent group of listeners who
seemed rather to sympathise with me, although, of course, thinking that
I had brought all this upon myself.

Presently one of these bystanders said: “Does not a monkey appear in
Plate 72, Vol. I., of the ‘Archæological Survey of Nubia?’” There was a
dead silence, and many inquiring eyes were turned upon me. I said, “That
is so.” Then another man said, “It is described as a steatite monkey
holding a kohl pot, for I remember reading it with great interest. And
the sacred eye is shown in Plate 79, Vol. I.” Now the interest became
intense, and smiles began to appear on the faces of the bystanders. It
was all true. The small scarab is shown in the second volume, and the
large scarab is illustrated in the second report of the “Archæological
Survey of Nubia.”

It was, perhaps, an unkind experiment to make, but yet it was necessary
to know whether one’s association with admitted forgeries were
sufficient to bias the mind of a clever man in giving his opinion on
specimens submitted to him.

Ten years ago, when discussing with an eminent excavator the excellence
of the fourth dynasty work, I said: “Here we have the climax, so to
speak, of Egyptian culture—the period of the Great Pyramid of Cheops,
which is so marvellous for the mathematical exactitude with which it is
built. But where are the evidences of the evolution which preceded this
period, the time when they were trying their dawning ideas? No architect
would have dared offer to build Cheops a pyramid, the base of which
should be thirteen acres in extent and 480 feet in height, were he not
absolutely certain of his ability to overcome those mathematical and
mechanical difficulties which would be met with in lifting heavy blocks
of stone 480 feet. And then the sides face due North and South, East and
West. Where is the period of evolution which preceded this excellence?”

The excavator’s reply was startling. “I do not believe that there was
one,” he said. “The demand was made and met: the same would be the case
to-day if a similar need arose.”

Perhaps this explains why Egyptians, without preliminary tuition in
sculpture or painting, are copying the old work in such a way that only
the most experienced are able to tell the real from the false.

Most excavators, however, have a sense of intuition which tells them if
a thing is false or not. Not that they depend in any way upon this, for
they weigh up the evidence in a strictly scientific manner, and give
their decision backed up by reasons which are difficult to dispute.