The Monsoor Amarna Collection

An Evaluation

By Rainer Berger

Recently two Amarna sculptures of the Monsoor Amarna collection were analyzed to determine if they are genuine artifacts or not. The objects tested are Fig. 6 and 19 of that collection and representative in general appearance of the other pieces.*

Both sculptures or heads tested are made from a fine-grained foraminiferal limestone of not always strictly uniform composition. One of the heads of Akhenaton is made of a more pink variety of limestone whereas the other is composed of a pale yellow-hued off-white limestone (head of princess).

In either case the heads are composed throughout of stone as can be ascertained from modern mounting holes bored through the neck portions n the direction of the head in the usual manner. No artificial substitutes such as plaster fills or gesso application could be detected.

The surfaces of the heads are covered by a very faint patination which becomes more discernable when one compares the appearance of the native stone surface seen in the recently bored mounting holes with the overall coloration of the sculptures. Moreover, etching with very dilute hydrochloric acid not only attests to the limestone composition but also removes the patination to show the true color of the native rock.

There arises the question whether very mild patination goes hand in hand with relatively recent age. However, this need not be the case if the Amarna pieces stem from the dry and protected environment from which they have been reported to originate. In fact many sculptures in the Cairo Museum show very little patination even though they are very old. This lack of substantial patination is not necessarily a true indicator of recency, a fact often observed by the writer over many years in many collections world-wide.

The question to what extent genuine patination can be artificially produced has been dealt with by other experts in separate reports and need not be discussed here.

By the far the best quantitative tests of surface composition relative to the average of the native rock itself are the analyses of L. Silver. The implications are that a substantially different surface composition as opposed to the interior of the stone speaks in favor of long time periods of exposure to produce this effect. A freshly carved stone surface would not possess these chemical characteristics. Implicit in this result is the question to what extent such a composition can be simulated on a piece of modern sculpture. First of all the techniques of surface profile analysis are relatively recent. A determined forger would have to know just how much impurities to add to a surface treatment to arrive at the distinctly measurable but minute chemical differences in surface composition. Massive surface intervention would be clearly detectable and stand out even if the naked eye were to see only minute change. Conversely, had the figures been painted in antiquity, as was often the case, the total lack of paint would argue for great age, especially when one considers burial in dry sand.

Over the years a variety of physical and chemical techniques have been developed to date minerals. These include uranium/lead dating, potassium/argon dating, fission track analysis and obsidian hydration dating to name a few. None of these methods can be brought to bear on the time when the Amarna sculptures were carved. However fluorine diffusion studies now underway may in the future be applicable to dating the Monsoor Amarna collection an unambiguously provide a clear-cut answer .

Thus there exists so far no chemical or physical technique which can give an unequivocal answer to the exact age in years when the Amarna sculptures of the Monsoor collection were carved.

However the anthropometric analysis by R. Protsch lends considerable weight to the authenticity of this collection. Since the shape of the skull of the principal figures is well known from unassailably genuine sculptures, comparison can be made between those pieces and the Monsoor collection. On the basis of the known genealogy and skull morphology it can be shown that the sculptures of the Monsoor collection fit well with known authentic masterpieces which were not found long ago. Consequently a forger would not have had long to copy the originals. Also just about all indications suggest that the surfaces of the Monsoor collection are old and could not have been made in recent decades. Therefore it is much more probable that the Monsoor pieces are real.

Thus an evaluation of the authenticity of the collection rests with a balanced reasonable judgment based on all of the analyses made to date. These include the following:

  1. W.J. Young, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 14 April 1949.
  2. A. Lucas plus report by Z. Iskandar and Z. Mustafa, Cairo Museum, 28 November 1950.
  3. R.R. Compton, Stanford University, 18 December 1958.
  4. R.E. Arnal, California State University, San Jose, 7 March 1959.
  5. P.L. Kirk, Berkeley, 16 March 1959.
  6. L. Silver, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, 27 March 1959 and follow-on report.
  7. De Ment Laboratories, Portland, 17 June 1959.
  8. C.O. Hutton, Stanford University, 21 February 1960.
  9. F.G. Turner, University of California, Berkeley, 23 February 1960.
  10. A. Colonna, Catalog and Description of Monsoor Collection, San Francisco.

To summarize, if the present report is included, a 10 to 1 vote for the authenticity of the Monsoor Amarna Collection is based on experimental analysis and considered expert opinion which speaks for itself.

Rainer Berger

Professor of Anthropology, Geography and Geophysics

University of California, Los Angeles

7 February 1976

*Figures are numbered according to catalog of A. Colonna.