Accusations from scholars in France and Britain are challenging the US on the authenticity of Roman artefacts repatriated to Lebanon. Djamila Fellague from the University of Grenoble contends that eight out of nine mosaic panels recently returned by the US are fraudulent, as reported by The Guardian.
Fellague claims these imitations are recognisable, replicating well-known mosaics from important archaeological sites and museums in Sicily, Tunisia, Algeria, and Turkey. For instance, a section depicting an Anguiped Giant allegedly copies a segment from the famous mosaics in the Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. She highlights another example, a mosaic of Neptune and Amphitrite, asserting that it heavily borrows from an original housed in the Louvre Museum in Paris since the mid-19th century, originating from Constantine, Algeria.
In an email, Fellague acknowledges the colossal mission of the District Attorney’s Office in combating antique trafficking and hopes this is an isolated case. She raises questions about the role of science in police investigations related to archaeological artefacts, emphasising uncertainty about the researchers’ expertise involved in the DA’s inquiry.
Among the returned pieces is a mosaic of the athlete Dionysus, courtesy of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Fellague contends that only one example was forged from an original from Lebanon, specifically a depiction of Bacchus in the National Museum in Beirut.
Another expert, Christos Tsirogiannis from the University of Cambridge, finds the returned works unconvincing. He notes the similarities but points out the noticeable difference in quality when comparing the fake and authentic mosaics.
The Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, celebrated the repatriation in a press release on September 7, valuing the antiquities collectively at $9 million. He mentioned that the majority of these artefacts were linked to a criminal investigation into accused trafficker Georges Lofti, with others seized from smugglers Giovanni Franco Becchina, Robin Symes, and Jerome Eisenberg.
A spokesperson from the DA’s Office dismissed the accusations, stating that a court, based on expert analysis and evidence of illegal trafficking, authenticated the repatriated pieces. During Bragg’s tenure, the Antiquities Trafficking Unit claims to have recovered nearly 850 antiquities valued at over $190 million, stolen from 27 countries. Since its inception, the unit has rescued over 4,500 antiquities, valued at over $410 million, stolen from 30 countries.