The United States returned last month an artifact — a silver griffin, said to be 2,700 years old — to the Republic of Iran as a gesture of respect and diplomacy.
But the griffin is not 2,700 years old. It is likely younger than a high school freshman, according to Tablet magazine.
A definitive publication by retired Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Oscar White Muscarella clearly demonstrates that what is alleged by even the U.S. State Department to be a 2,700-year-old artifact from Iran is actually a modern fake, dating back to, at the earliest, 1999. The griffin was first seen in Geneva in the gallery of prominent Iranian art dealers and in 2002 was purchased by a wealthy New York collector, who not coincidentally was a trustee of the Met. Not confident about the artifact’s bona fides, the collector asked the dealers to provide authentication. Three experts were produced who promptly attested that the object had been produced in western Iran and dated to ca. 700 B.C.E.
But when the griffin arrived in New York in 2003, one of the Iranian-Swiss dealers was arrested by the Department of Homeland Security on the charge of falsifying the object’s place of origin. The next year he pleaded guilty to falsely stating that the griffin had originated in Syria rather than Iran and received one year of probation and a fine of $5,000. The buyer got her money back. The artifact was seized but the market, the game, was barely disturbed.