Article – Suzan Mazur
As the Iranian silver griffin debacle continues to be dissected, I have heard more from Peter Northover, head of the materials-based science/archaeology group at Oxford University, one of three authenticators on the griffin for New York art dealer Hicham …
ICE “Incompetence” In Iranian Griffin Debacle
by Suzan Mazur
October 15, 2013
RELATED STORY: A Fake? — “America’s Souvenir to the Iranian People”
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A view from the top, photo courtesy of Oscar Muscarella
As the Iranian silver griffin debacle continues to be dissected, I have heard more from Peter Northover, head of the materials-based science/archaeology group at Oxford University, one of three authenticators on the griffin for New York art dealer Hicham Aboutaam. Aboutaam sold the object to Mexican billionaire and Metropolitan Museum of Art trustee Paula Cussi in 2002 for $950,000 after which the griffin was confiscated by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency because of Aboutaam’s false invoice, kept for a decade, and recently returned to Iran.
Northover’s email to me follows these photos (now in the New York Attorney General’s file) taken by Tom Chase of Chase Art Services, another authenticator for the Aboutaam griffin: (left) the underside of the rear funnel where the 1 – 1/4″ sliver of silver was removed by Chase, and (right) the actual sample of silver.
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Peter Northover’s email [typos fixed]:
Thanks for your message and the link. I have found my report and the sample that I examined for Tom is, I believe, undoubtedly ancient. THE QUESTION IS NOW HOW MUCH OF THE GRIFFIN IS ANCIENT AND, EVEN IF ALL COMPONENTS ARE ANCIENT, WHETHER THEY BELONG TOGETHER [emphasis added]. It is an unusual object, certainly, but I have a deep suspicion of people who say that because they have never seen one before it must be a fake. QUITE SIMPLY, THE NECESSARY WORK ON THIS HAS NOT BEEN DONE, AS TOM SAID IT IS DIFFICULT TO TAKE SAMPLES IN A SENSITIVE WAY BUT WITHOUT THE INTERVENTION YOU WILL NOT GET THE INFORMATION. WHERE THE RESPONSIBILITY LIES WITH THE PRESENT SITUATION IS WITH WHOEVER HANDED IT BACK TO IRAN WITHOUT CHECKING UP. YOUR CONTACT WAS CERTAINLY THE FIRST I HAD HEARD OF IT. THIS IS NOTHING TO DO WITH CONSPIRACY BUT SIMPLY INCOMPETENCE AND LACK OF DUE DILIGENCE [emphasis added]. As you will have realised I think it is equally wrong to say it is an out and out fake. As I say to my clients, unless it is a very obvious forgery, what we are trying to do is find out what the object is and this has not been done here. The work done on it defined it as an object worth studying further and because of the constraints of the market-place at the time this was not done.
Hope this all makes sense,
I ran Northover’s email by Oscar Muscarella who wrote back:
“Northover up front initiates his report to you by stating that the fragment he examined is “undoubtedly ancient.”
I would strongly urge that without making a public statement to scholars, i.e., publishing precisely what the scientific evidence is or his categorical claim, and allowing other scientists and archaeologists to evaluate it, his claim hangs in the air, and as such has no scientific value.
He subjectively chastises those (me and others), who recognize it to be a modern (circa 13 years old) forgery, because we have not ” seen one [like it: the Aboutaam rhyton] before. . .”
With due respect, I too “have a deep suspicion” about scientists who make statements re the authenticity and style of an antiquity based on observing a unicum (with no ancient parallels, to mention but one: the funnel in the griffin’s anus).
Northover is not an authority here. He is a scientist, neither an archaeologist nor an ancient artifact expert, and should refrain from such comments. And yes, the “necessary work on this has” been done, as your report has made clear by publishing examples of such research.
Northover is correct to point out that Obama was not involved in a conspiracy. The problem lies with the incompetency of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, which is where the US authorities should commence their investigations.”
Muscarella says he has also received an email from Wouter Henkelman, a scholar of Iranian antiquity, who is now in Iran with only sporadic access to email but who reports the word there is that “it [the griffin] is a fake, a not very pretty one.”
Muscarella says further that two Iranian scholars he’s told of the “forgery gift” have informed their government, and that the Iranian government now recognizes that “America’s souvenir to the Iranian people” is a fake.
All the more interesting for the National Museum of Iran’s upcoming documentary about the griffin.
Suzan Mazur is the author of The Altenberg 16: An Exposé of the Evolution Industry and of a forthcoming book on Origin of Life. Her reports have appeared in the Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Archaeology, Connoisseur, Omni and others, as well as on PBS, CBC and MBC. She has been a guest on McLaughlin, Charlie Rose and various Fox Television News programs. For a few years along the way she was a runway fashion model, visiting Iran in 1976 as part of a US bicentennial goodwill tour of the Middle East (former CIA Director Richard Helms was then ambassador to Iran and attended the Tehren fashion gala) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.