Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Risley Park Lanx: Intellectual Consequences

Tom Flynn reminded me of the "Risley Park Lanx" and it prompted me to think about the intellectual consequences of this acquisition. This Roman silver dish was found in 1729 at Risley Park in Derbyshire. In 1981 Catherine Johns published an account of the dish in the Antiquaries Journal.

Then amazingly the dish was offered for sale at Sotheby's in London by George Greenhalgh (for further details by Tom Flynn). The lanx had apparently been bequeathed to the Greenhalgh family of Bolton; it was claimed that they had welded bits of it together. The dish was sold and subsequently acquired by the British Museum where it was put on display in August 1992.

Norman Hammond, writing in The Times (August 15, 1992), had a note of caution:
Analysis by the museum showed the silver to be Roman but the object itself was not. The most likely course of events seems to have been that the fragments were assembled shortly after their discovery and a mould made from them. The original pieces were melted down and poured into the mould to create a replica.
The piece was clearly accepted as a copy; but how accurate was it?

In 1994 a short description of the lanx appeared in Britannia (1994) [JSTOR]. It noted that it was not the original but a silver "casting ... made apparently by melting down the original". This "casting" included the text of a dedication by Bishop Exsuperius rejecting William Stukley's 1729 reading of the text in preference for the revised text of 1736.

So a clever forgery was inserted into the standard (and respected) literature on Roman Britain. Such modern creations have intellectual consequences for the study of antiquity.

And if "Greenhalgh" and "Bolton" ring bells .... remember the "Amarna Princess". The Independent (November 17, 2007) even noted that "Shaun Greenhalgh produced a replica [of the lanx] using Roman coins smelted in a small furnace kept on top of his fridge."

What other forgeries have passed into the corpus of knowledge?

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