Super quick post regarding a recent discussion I was having about cleaning antiquities, particularly those which would have been buried underground. While there are many highly specialized and scientific ways to authenticate a piece (for example TL testing), there are also some very practical clues one can look out for. For example dirt. When an item has been buried underground for millenia, the soil itself will likely take on certain characteristics, which are easily seen when compared to some of the more obvious fakes. There are differences in climates to account for but a general rule is that dirt does not equate to age. Fakers, particularly in the case of lower end fakes, will opt for lots of dirt under the assumption that the uninitiated buyer will equate dirt with age. This is particularly true with pottery, earthenware and ceramics, though holds true to a degree with furniture as well. So lets quickly compare the soil compacted on the surfaces of both an authentic piece and an obvious reproduction.
The fake on the left is about 2 years old. The jar on the right is about 2000 years old. Notice the extreme differences in the soil compacted on the surface of each jar? The fake has had mud compacted on its surface to simulate burial. Its dry, crumbly and peals away easily leaving little residue. It feels more like its been sunk into a muddy field for a short period of time, rather then in a tomb for several thousand years. The one on the right is covered in a thick, very finely compacted build up of hard soil. Nor does it crack away easily. This is the product of gradual build up over a very long period of time. Its completely dried out, yet extremely dense and does not remove easily.
3 Replies to “Look at the dirt – quick tips for authenticating neolithic and ancient Chinese pottery”
[…] Antiquities trade professional Roger Schwendeman explained: ‘Fakers, particularly in the case of lower end fakes, will opt for [applying] lots of dirt under the assumption that the uninitiated buyer will equate dirt with age.’ […]
not sure if you are still monitoring this, but I have a question. A great friend of mine from China has given me a “Han Dynasty” vase. it has the appropriate dirt on it and he claims it is authentic. Would you clean it with a soft cloth and warm water? it doesn’t look so good with the mud on it, and I’m assuming it is a much better artifact without the mud. Thoughts?
Peter, post images of it here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/903467689720550/
Depending on what it is, it may need special care. Usually for han pieces, if painted, water might remove the color.