Color Images of the Hawara Homer Online

Thanks to Gregg Schwendner for the alert: In 2019, the Bodleian Library at Oxford posted very nice color digital images (with a scale!) of MS. Gr. class. a. 1 (better known as the Hawara Homer), a copy of books 1 and 2 of the Iliad on papyrus.

Bodleian Library MS. Gr. class. a. 1 (the Hawara Homer); image source: Digital Bodleian

I’ve written about this papyrus on a few occasions on this blog, discussing the story of its discovery in an excavation led by William Matthew Flinders Petrie and the subsequent analysis of its handwriting, the so-called “Rounded Majuscule” (palaeography part 1, part 2, and part 3).

The line number in the left margin in the picture above is modern. It was added by Petrie himself, as was this note at the bottom of the last column of text in book 2:

Bodleian Library MS. Gr. class. a. 1 (the Hawara Homer); image source: Digital Bodleian

Many thanks to the people at the Bodleian who made this possible. I’ll make a separate post about other manuscripts that may be of interest to readers of this blog.

(I should also note the old black and white images of the Hawara Homer at CSAD, which can still be helpful in seeing contrasts in certain areas.)

Posted in Hawara Homer, Palaeography, William Matthew Flinders Petrie | 1 Comment

A New Item in the P.Sapph.Obbink Timeline

Following up on yesterday’s news about the recovery of more papyri stolen from the Egypt Exploration Society, I learn from an anonymous commenter on an earlier post that there is a neglected (by me, at at least) item on the “timeline” of events associated with the so-called P.Sapph.Obbink papyrus.

The last time anybody saw P.Sapph.Obbink? (BBC 4 documentary Sappho: Love and Life on Lesbos, aired in May 2015)

Some background: Last year, scholars at the Museum of the Bible reported that the pieces of the papyrus in the Green Collection were purchased in early 2012, citing a “purchase agreement dated January 7, 2012, and signed by Yakup Eksioglu,” a Turkish dealer and, according to reporting in The Atlantic by Ariel Sabar, a close associate of Professor Dirk Obbink. Some of Prof. Obbink’s own accounts of his first recognition of the Sappho papyrus put the date “in January 2012.” While the next couple months saw Scott Carroll fake the extraction of the Green Collection Sappho fragments from mummy cartonnage and then parade the papyri around at different speaking engagements, Prof. Obbink did not announce the existence of the larger fragments (P.Sapph.Obbink) until early 2014, when news broke in The Daily Beast, The Times, and The Times Literary Supplement.

Also last year, Mike Sampson published an article in the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists (and recently summarized here) reporting on the existence of a brochure in pdf format said to be produced by Christie’s offering the Sappho papyrus for sale privately to selected buyers. Sampson’s investigations showed that the document had been produced in connection with a sale (or attempted sale) of the papyrus in August 2013 and then updated for another attempted sale in early 2015.

Now to the new information: The commenter points us to a conference that was set to take place at the University of Reading in September of 2013. A blog post dated 2 September 2013 includes a list of participants and titles of papers. Among them is:

D. Obbink (Oxford): “Sailing to Naukratis: Saphho [sic] on her Brothers”

Although the title says nothing about a new papyrus, and the topic might be simply drawn from information in Herodotus’s description of the courtesan Rhodopis, it seems likely this paper would have been an announcement of the new papyrus. I say “would have been” because the commenter also points out that in the actual online program for the conference, Prof. Obbink’s contribution is not present. It seems the paper was pulled at some point between the blog post on 2 September 2013 and the date of the conference (6-8 September 2013).

It’s the timing that is interesting in connection with the metadata that Sampson extracted from the Christie’s brochure, which suggested an attempted sale of the papyrus in August 2013. The last two timestamps associated with this cluster of metadata came from 27 August, just days before what appears to have been Prof. Obbink’s (aborted) first public announcement of the existence of the papyrus.

There is also another connection here with Scott Carroll. I quote from Sampson’s BASP article:

“As David Meadows has documented on Rogue Classicism, [Scott Carroll] made a presentation to the University of the Nations Workshop in San Antonio del Mar (Mexico) on September 6, 2013, where he brought up Sappho and the Times Literary Supplement before boasting that ‘thirty of these items would be front page news when they’re published,’ a claim that would prove prescient. That date, I note, is less than a month following what I believe was the first private treaty sale of the papyrus.”

It makes you wonder if the public unveiling of the fragment (along with an article in TLS) was planned for some time in September 2013 but delayed for an unknown reason. Finally, as Sampson noted, the metadata of the Christie’s brochure pointed toward a second attempted sale in early 2015, specifically in the period around 13 January 2015 to 26 February 2015, the dates associated with the latest metadata in the pdf file of the Christie’s brochure. On this occasion, the attempted sale seems to have taken place just after Prof. Obbink’s public presentation on the provenance of the papyrus at the annual meeting of the Society for Classical Studies on 9 January 2015. There does seem to be a very close interplay between Prof. Obbink’s academic work on the papyrus and the attempted sale of the papyrus on the antiquities market on more than one occasion. It would be useful to learn more about what appears to be the ongoing relationship between Scott Carroll and Prof. Obbink even after Carroll and the Green Collection parted ways in May 2012.

Posted in Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection Sappho, P.Sapph. Obbink | 5 Comments

More Stolen Papyri to be Returned to the Egypt Exploration Society

Earlier today, the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) announced the discovery that more papyri “had been removed from the EES collection without authorisation.” This follows other related announcements over the last several months.

The first announcement by the EES (25 June 2019) noted the possibility that recently published early Christian papyri in the EES collection from Oxyrhynchus were identical to four papyri that were said to have been sold to Hobby Lobby and subsequently donated to the Museum of the Bible. Further investigations revealed that EES materials had indeed been stolen and sold to Hobby Lobby. The next announcement (14 October 2019) identified 13 such fragments. This was followed closely by another announcement (21 October 2019) that 5 additional EES fragments had been stolen and sold to American collector Andrew Stimer. Another announcement (16 November 2019) raised the number of EES items held by Stimer to 6 and noted that an inventory of the EES holdings from Oxyrhynchus “has to date identified around 120 pieces which appear to be missing, almost all from a limited number of folders; it is possible that a few more cases may emerge.”

Today the EES announced that in cooperation with the Museum of the Bible, they had identified an additional 21 fragments that had been stolen and then “acquired by Hobby Lobby and its agents from a number of third parties.” This time, the EES statement did not reveal the contents of these 21 pieces (it would be good to know if any of these pieces are among those that have been displayed over the years by Scott Carroll and others). The announcement goes on to note that the recent repatriation to Egypt of the bulk of the 5000 or so papyri held by Hobby Lobby and the Museum of the Bible likely means that some additional EES materials will probably be included in that lot (thus the task of sorting, identifying, conserving, and providing long-term storage for these pieces will now fall to Egyptian colleagues). Finally, the EES notes that the police investigation into the theft of the papyri in their care is ongoing.

So, out of (at least) 120 missing papyri, 40 have now been identified and are reportedly being returned to the EES. Those that the EES has identified have been exclusively Christian (or possibly Jewish) literary texts. That leaves (at least) 80 or so missing pieces. I find it somewhat strange that the EES has not made publicly known what these pieces are. I am not a specialist in cultural heritage crimes, but it’s my understanding that when thefts occur, it is common practice to let the community know what pieces have gone missing in order that they might be identified when they surface on the market (at least, I take this to be the logic behind, for instance, the “Stolen Art” and “Missing Art” sections of the International Foundation for Art Research Journal).

In any event, hopefully more of the stolen items can be identified, and those responsible for the theft can be brought to justice.

Posted in Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 2 Comments

Museum of the Bible Papyri in Egypt

From Egypt Today:

“CAIRO – 27 January 2021: A large group of Egyptian artifacts that were in the possession of the Holy Bible Museum in Washington, USA, arrived at Cairo International Airport on January 27, as a result of the great efforts exerted by Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the concerned American authorities.”

Many familiar pieces in the article. More thoughts on this in the coming days.

UPDATE 28 January 2021: Some better images of the returned items (including several mummy masks) can be found at Ahram Online (H/T Paul Barford)

Posted in Antiquities Market, Green Collection, Green Collection 1 Samuel | 1 Comment

New Facsimiles of the Chester Beatty New Testament Papyri

I had heard rumors a few years ago that a new facsimile edition of the Beatty Biblical Papyri was in the works. It looks like the New Testament papyri have now appeared courtesy of Hendrickson. This is exciting. The volumes look very nice, judging from the photos on the website. They use the images taken a few years ago by the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. The price, however, is a little disappointing, given that high-quality facsimile editions of manuscripts are now frequently being produced at more reasonable prices.

Posted in Chester Beatty Papyri, Codices | 9 Comments

Back When Single-quire Codices Were Strange

Since the discovery and publication of the Nag Hammadi codices, the single-quire codex format has become very familiar to papyrologists and historians of the book. It’s interesting, however, to recall that there was a time when the idea of an ancient book consisting of just one single large quire seemed a bit strange. The year was 1899. In the second volume of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Grenfell and Hunt published a fragment of a bifolium from a papyrus codex containing the Gospel According to John in Greek (P.Oxy. 2.208; LDAB 2780). They assigned it to the third century. For Grenfell and Hunt, it was a curious item, as only the central fold and a few centimeters on either side of the fold are preserved.

P.Oxy. 2.208 (British Library Papyrus 782); image source: British Library

The contents turned out to be John 1:23-41 on one leaf and John 20:11-25 on the other. It is thus very likely to be the remains of one of the outer bifolia of a single-quire codex containing the whole Gospel According to John. For Grenfell and Hunt, this format was something odd, “rather awkward,” as they noted in their edition:

“If, then, the original book contained the whole of the Gospel, which is certainly the most natural supposition, our sheet was very nearly the outermost of a large quire, and within it were a number of other sheets sufficient to hold the eighteen intervening chapters. Written upon the same scale as the surviving fragments, these eighteen chapters would fill twenty-two sheets. The whole book would thus consist of a single quire of twenty-five sheets, the first leaf being probably left blank, or giving only the title. Such an arrangement certainly seems rather awkward, particularly as the margin between the two columns of writing in the flattened sheet is only about 2 cm. wide. This is not much to be divided between two leaves at the outside of so thick a quire. But as yet little is known about the composition of these early books; and it is by no means improbable that the simpler and more primitive form of a large number of sheets gathered into a single quire was prevalent before the more convenient arrangement of several small quires placed side by side came into fashion.”

As usual, Grenfell and Hunt were willing to be surprised and recognized that many of their expectations might be overturned by the vast amount of new evidence they were uncovering in those early days.

This passage came to mind because I just stumbled across a fascinating earlier moment in their process of thinking about this piece. In a preliminary report published in 1898, Grenfell floated a different interpretation of the fragment:

“Since the issue of the first volume of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Mr. Hunt and I have opened a number of fresh boxes, and the plan of the second volume, which will appear next year, is now for the most part arranged. The department of theology will include 3rd century fragments of St. John’s Gospel, written in parallel columns with another work.”

The idea that columns of writing containing the first chapter of John and one of the last chapters should appear next to each other was so unheard of that Grenfell and Hunt seem to have initially interpreted the fragment as part of a roll containing the fourth gospel and an altogether different text written next to each other in parallel columns. It’s a neat reminder of just how little was known about papyrus codices at the turn of the twentieth century.

In 1922, Grenfell and Hunt published a fragment of another leaf from this codex as P.Oxy. 15.1781, which contains John 16. That leaves from both the inner sheets and the outer sheets were found in the trash heaps at Oxyrhynchus probably indicates that the whole codex was thrown out (and not just a stray leaf that fell out). On this point, see AnneMarie Luijendijk, “Sacred Scriptures as Trash: Biblical Papyri from Oxyrhynchus.”

Posted in Book binding, Codices, Codicology, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 1 Comment

Hugo Ibscher Trading Cards

When I was a kid, I enjoyed collecting sports cards. In those days (early 1980s), the cards came in wax-paper wrappers with a flat rectangular piece of so-called “chewing gum” that was so stale and hardened that it would shatter almost like glass (but I always chewed it nevertheless). Because child-Brent was not entirely different from adult-Brent, even then I looked into the history of sports cards and became aware that early cards came not with gum but with cigarettes. For collectors, the most sought-after baseball card was (and, to the best of my knowledge, still is) a tobacco card, the so-called T206 Honus Wagner, produced from 1909 to 1911:

What child-Brent didn’t know and what adult-Brent just recently learned was that cigarette cards of the early twentieth century were made depicting all sorts of things…including famed book conservator Hugo Ibscher! Regular readers will know that Hugo Ibscher (1874-1943) was an esteemed conservator of ancient books who was based in Berlin. Many of the most important ancient codices discovered in the early twentieth century passed through Ibscher’s hands, and his descriptions of them are often our only evidence for the construction of these codices (here, for instance, are some of his notes on the Berlin Coptic Proverbs codex).

The Ibscher cards came with packages of Churchman’s Cigarettes in 1937. Here are the cards, in all their glory (front side on the left, reverse on the right):

The cards depict Ibscher working on mummy cartonnage (card number 29) and on what appears to be one of the Manichaean codices from Medinet Madi (card number 30). The images on these cards seem to be derived from a photo shoot that took place a couple years earlier. They are very similar to photographs published in The Sphere (an illustrated newspaper published in the UK) in 1934:

The rest of the series of cards (50 in all) are equally interesting. They depict various archaeological topics that were current in the 1930s. Some show contemporary excavations in Italy carried out under Mussolini:

And of course there is a card relating to the British Museum’s acquisition of Codex Sinaiticus:

I’m almost certain that child-Brent would have been bitterly disappointed to open a pack of cards and find Hugo Ibscher and Codex Sinaiticus, but adult-Brent is pretty delighted (and in any event, child-Brent should not have been buying packs of cigarettes).

Posted in Codicology, Mummy cartonnage | 6 Comments

Further Revelations from Sampson’s Article: The Sappho Papyrus and the German Officer

In a previous post on C. Michael Sampson’s article in the most recent issue of the Bulletin of the American Association of Papyrologists, I mentioned that Sampson’s essay contained a number of interesting but somewhat complicated revelations about questions surrounding the Sappho papyrus.

One seemingly intractable mystery that Sampson has (to my mind, anyway) solved involves one of the first provenance stories associated with the Sappho papyrus. Early on, it was claimed that the papyrus had originated in mummy cartonnage that had once been owned by “a high-ranking German officer.” This provenance story quickly evaporated and was never explained. A little background will help to illuminate Sampson’s discovery.

In an article in the Times (2 February 2014) that announced Professor Dirk Obbink’s forthcoming publication of the Sappho papyrus, Bettany Hughes noted that the owner of the papyrus, an “elderly gentleman,” had engaged professor Obbink to examine “material from an ancient Egyptian burial.” Professor Obbink, after “prising the layers of shredded papyrus apart,” recognized the text on the papyrus as poems of Sappho. At the conclusion of the article, Hughes had hinted at the provenance of the cartonnage from which the Sappho papyrus had allegedly been extracted:

“The elderly owner of our new Sappho papyrus wishes to remain anonymous, and its provenance is obscure (it was originally owned, it seems, by a high-ranking German officer), but he was determined its secrets should not die with him.”

In his own article published a few days later (7 February 2014) in the Times Literary Supplement, Professor Obbink also referred to the “ancient mummy cartonnage panel” that was the alleged source of the Sappho papyrus.

The difficulty with this story, as Roberta Mazza pointed out a few months later in May 2014, was that the Sappho papyrus, which Professor Obbink assigned to the “late second/early third centuries” CE, was very unlikely to come from mummy cartonnage. The practice of using inscribed papyrus to make mummy casings seems to have died out two-hundred years earlier:

“According to standard papyrology manuals, the practice of fabricating cartonnage for mummy masks and panels went on throughout the entire Ptolemaic period, and ended towards the end of the Augustan era, so at the beginning of the first century AD.”

Thus, when Professor Obbink revisited the question of the provenance of the papyrus in 2015, there was no mention of the “German officer.” The story was now that the cartonnage did not come from a mummy casing after all, but rather was “domestic or industrial cartonnage” purchased at auction in a lot derived from the Robinson Papyri, the somewhat murky collection of an American academic. In a story in Live Science published on 23 January 2015, Megan Gannon asked Professor Obbink what had happened to the “German officer” mentioned in the article by Hughes. Professor Obbink responded that Hughes had simply fabricated the story.

“Obbink characterized Hughes’ story as a ‘fictionalization’ and an ‘imaginative fantasy. …Bettany Hughes never saw the papyrus,’ Obbink said. ‘I never discussed the ownership with her. She published the story without consulting me.’ (Hughes did not respond to a request for comment.)”

The “German officer” did not appear again in any discussions of the possible source of the papyrus. So, the matter rested there for five years.

But now the Christie’s brochure analyzed by Sampson brings the “German officer” back into view. The Christie’s brochure includes a photograph of a Ptolemaic-era panel of mummy cartonnage sitting next to another clump of “plain” cartonnage. The caption beneath the photograph states that “The Sappho fragment was initially thought to derive from a painted mummy cartonnage panel (left), with which it was simultaneously dissolved, but this was discovered to be a confusion of processing.” This is quite similar to the explanation that Professor Obbink had presented in his paper on the provenance of the papyrus in January 2015: “The owner originally believed that he had dissolved a piece of ‘mummy’ cartonnage, as I reported in TLS. But this turned out upon closer inspection of the original papyri not to be the case.”

Charlotte Higgins had interviewed Sampson and mentioned the panel of mummy cartonnage in her article in the Guardian back in January 2020:

“In the brochure, there are, at last, images that purport to show how the two different types of cartonnage – mummy cartonnage and industrial cartonnage – were confused. One picture shows a brightly painted blue-and-red piece of mummy cartonnage lying in a ceramic basin beside a brown mass of what appears to be flattened papyrus, described as ‘cartonnage’. The caption recaps the final story reported by Obbink – that the two items were muddled up in a ‘confusion of processing’. However, in the opinion of Sampson, it ‘defies belief’ that the entirely different objects could have been confused.”

What is new in Sampson’s article is the identification of this Ptolemaic-era cartonnage. With some impressive sleuthing, Sampson was able to identify this panel as (the lower half of) one that was purchased through Sotheby’s in 2008:

What was especially intruiging was the alleged provenance of the panel:

The person listed as the previous owner of the panel was Rainer Kriebel, “military attaché to the German Federal Republic’s embassy to Egypt in Cairo.” It’s hard to believe that there would be two pieces of cartonnage connected to both the Sappho papyrus and a German military official. It seems that Sampson has found our “German officer.”

Sampson’s reconstruction of events is sensible: As mentioned in my previous post, Sampson’s analysis of the metadata associated with the pdf file of the Christie’s brochure indicated that there were likely two attempted sales of the papyrus, one in 2013 and one in 2015. For the 2013 sale, the images of Kriebel’s mummy cartonnage panel very probably served to reflect the “Original Provenance Fiction,” as Sampson calls it: the idea that the Sappho papyrus had come from a Ptolemaic-era panel of mummy cartonnage. The sale in in the summer of 2015 continued to use the same images (likely in an effort to preserve some aspects of the story, namely extraction from cartonnage of some sort), but the text of the brochure reflected the “Revised Provenance Fiction,” that the Sappho papyrus had come from “domestic or industrial cartonnage” and had only been associated with the mummy material through a mistake of the owner.

While there are still many questions about the ultimate origins of the Sappho papyrus, it is satisfying that Sampson’s research has explained the mysterious “German officer.”

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Find Stories, Mummy cartonnage, P.Sapph. Obbink | 3 Comments

More on Dirk Obbink and the Provenance of the Sappho Papyrus

The latest issue of the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists was just published. It contains an article by C. Michael Sampson, “Deconstructing the Provenances of P.Sapph.Obbink.” The article brings a load of new evidence to bear on the question of the origins of the papyrus. Some of this was hinted at in Charlotte Higgins’ excellent piece on Professor Obbink in The Guardian back in January:

“Mike Sampson, a papyrologist at the University of Manitoba, has found evidence, seen by the Guardian, suggesting that the origin-story of the Sappho manuscript reported by Obbink may be a fiction. Sampson was sent a PDF by an academic source. The document is a glossy, lavishly illustrated brochure produced by Christie’s. It advertises the Sappho fragment for sale by private treaty. A ‘private treaty sale’ is a service whereby an auction house will broker a sale between vendor and buyer discreetly, outside the relatively public auction schedule. (The document is quite separate from the 2011 auction, and was produced some time after it.) The brochure will have been circulated very discreetly, too, to a few key collectors. Sampson has analysed the metadata of the PDF, and believes that the Sappho fragment was in fact probably offered for sale by private treaty twice – once in 2013, prior to the public announcement of its existence, and again in 2015.”

Now Sampson has published the details of his analysis and the results of his investigations. Sampson notes that despite multiple queries, Christie’s has neither confirmed nor denied that they produced this document, citing “reasons of client confidentiality.” That they do not deny they produced the brochure is telling in itself.

Some of the revelations from Sampson’s article include an alleged asking price for the Sappho papyrus when it was offered for sale in 2015: £12,000,000. It’s not clear if any sale actually took place.

Sampson’s article includes photos from the Christie’s brochure. Among them are images said to document the extraction of the papyrus from cartonnage. Using metadata from the images in the file, Sampson compellingly demonstrates that these photos were staged.

The metadata from the photos of this alleged “extraction” also badly clash with the timeline of events provided in Professor Obbink’s most recent and ever-shifting account of the origin of the fragments. In a volume published by Brill in 2016 (The Newest Sappho), Professor Obbink claimed that when the large Sappho fragment (“P.Sapph.Obbink”) was extracted, additional material was removed at the same time but not recognized as belonging to the Sappho papyrus:

“Some twenty smaller fragments removed from the exterior of this piece, being not easily identified or re-joined, were deemed insignificant and so traded independently on the London market by the owner, and made their way from the same source into the Green Collection in Oklahoma City.”

We now know that these smaller pieces of the Sappho were purchased by Hobby Lobby (the Green Collection) from the Turkish dealer Yakup Eksioglu (“Mixantik”) on 7 January 2012 in the form of wads of papyrus that Eksioglu claims he manufactured himself. We also know that Scott Carroll has admitted to faking their extraction from a mummy mask on 16 January 2012. We also know that the Green Collection Sappho pieces were framed and waved in front of an audience by Carroll in Atlanta on 7 February 2012. It is thus surprising that the photographs of the alleged “extraction” of “P.Sapph.Obbink” should be dated seven days later, 14 February 2012. The story just doesn’t hold up.

Dirk Obbink with the Sappho papyrus in 2015 (image source: BBC, “Sappho: Love & Life on Lesbos) and Scott Carroll with the Green Collection fragments on 7 February 2012 (image source: Passages Speakers Series)

There are a number of other revelations in Sampson’s carefully researched article, but they’re a bit complicated to explain and will have to wait for another post. What does seem clear now is that all of the different origin stories that Professor Obbink has provided for the Sappho papyrus have fallen apart.

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Green Collection Sappho, P.Sapph. Obbink, Passages Speakers Series, Scott Carroll | 5 Comments

The Trojan Horse in Pakistan and Questions of Provenance

In the process of preparing to teach a course on ancient trade networks, I encountered a very informative chapter by Rachel Mairs in The Routledge Handbook of Archaeology and Globalization (2017), which introduced me to a fascinating artifact of which I was wholly unaware. It is a schist relief in the British Museum from the region that is now Pakistan. It depicts the Trojan Horse episode. According to the British Museum website, the sculpture likely dates to the second or third century CE. The vivid relief shows the wheeled horse being pushed toward the city, Laocoön stabbing the horse, and Cassandra trying to block the city gates:

Relief showing the Trojan Horse episode, from Gandhara(?), British Museum, 1990 1013 1; image source: British Museum

Mairs puts the relief to excellent use in demonstrating that it was not only people and goods that travelled the ancient trade routes but also stories and ideas.

It is indeed a fascinating object. But there is a problem. Mairs states that the relief “was found at the site of a Buddhist monastery (Allan 1946).” Yet, I can find no evidence for this claim. The publication cited by Mairs makes no mention of a monastery, and indeed no mention of a precise provenance, only the observation that the relief was “believed to have come from one of the numerous mounds in the Mardan subdivision of the Peshawar district.”

This description is in fact a direct quotation from the earliest report of the relief that was published in 1926: John Marshall (ed.), Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, 1923-1924. At pp. 125-126, ” Mr. H. Hargreaves” published a short piece entitled “Two Unidentified Reliefs from Gandhara.” Hargreaves described the panel as “now in possession of F.V. Wylie, Esquire, I.C.S., Mardan” and stated that “the provenance of the sculpture is uncertain, but in all probability the relief came from one of the numerous mounds in the Mardan sub-dvision of the Peshawar district.”

If we turn to the data provided by the British Museum online catalog, we find some (genuinely impressive) educated guessing about the provenance:

“In a printed version of an address to the Tibet Society of 1976, Sir Olaf Caroe, who knew Sir Francis Wylie, states that it came from the Swabi Tahsil, near Hund, a part of that subdivision. Wheeler’s suggestion (1968: 137), on the other hand, that the piece came from Charsada, not in the Mardan subdivision, is supported by Sir Francis Wylie’s having been Assistant Commissioner at Charsada from May 1919 to May 1921. While it is less likely that he acquired the piece during an interval as Political Agent in Tochi, the possibility increases again with his appointment, from September 1923, as Settlement Officer at Peshawar, when it may have come into his possession from one or other source between late 1923 and the first publication.”

The suggested find spots (Mardan, Hund, Charsada, and Peshawar) cover an area of well over 1000 km2, so it would seem we have a general sense of where this piece was found but no specifics.

But there is a bit more to say. In a 2016 article, Peter Stewart unearthed an endnote in Olaf Caroe’s long account of The Pathans (p. 444, note 11). Stewart reports:

“In his acclaimed study of The Pathans, Caroe writes, in reference to the Roman influence on Gandhäran art: ‘These treasures are not confined to representations of the Buddha or his life. They include Western mythology, e.g. a Trojan Horse relief discovered on a well near Hund in 1923.'”

Stewart accepts this account and draws out the implications:

“Traditional wells of the region do not have elaborate superstructures as in the European tradition. They were principally ‘Persian wells’ designed for animals to draw up water for irrigation, although ‘rope and bucket’ wells also existed. Nevertheless, it is very easy to imagine sculptures being built into them as decoration, whether in the structure of the well itself or in the surrounding stone-work, such as walls supporting a water-wheel. The setting is significant because it implies some kind of interest in Gandhäran sculptures as decorative spolia among the rural population in the 1920s, or at any rate in post-antique times, before their commercial value turned them into lucrative collectables.”

This seems reasonable, but it is worth dwelling a moment on Stewart’s grounds for accepting Caroe’s provenance story. Stewart lists six “strong reasons” for preferring this account (he elaborates and supports each of these assertions, but I quote only the salient point):

  1. “It is the most precise and most confident account that exists.”
  2. “Caroe repeated the claim, in general terms but with equal confidence, in his 1976 lecture to the Tibet Society.”
  3. “Caroe seems to have been intimately familiar with the area around Hund.”
  4. “The ‘Trojan Horse’ relief was present in the room when Caroe delivered his lecture to the Tibet Society. … This fact emphasizes Caroe’s familiarity with the sculpture and with the Wylie family.”
  5. “The date which Caroe gives for the discovery, 1923, fits perfectly with Sir Francis Wylie’s career. Hund was at that time part of the Mardän District. Wylie served only briefly as Assistant Commissioner at Mardän, from 21st April to 12th July 1923.”
  6. “Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Sir Olaf Caroe’s unpublished autobiography reveals that he not only worked with Sir Francis Wylie, but was an intimate, life-long friend.”

Of these six reasons, only number 5–the date fits nicely with Wylie’s career–seems relevant. Confidence, precision, repetition, and friendship with the alleged finder and his family remind me too much of the recent debacle with the Kando family and the fake Dead Sea Scrolls.

Caroe’s story is plausible, but it is far from certain. What is certain is that when it comes to the “Trojan Horse” relief, we just don’t know for sure the exact context in which the piece was found or in which it was displayed in antiquity. And in that respect it resembles all too many other schist reliefs from the region.

Bibliography

Allan, John. “A Tabula Iliaca from Gandhara.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 66 (1946), 21-23.

Caroe, Olaf. The Pathans: 550 B.C. – A.D. 1957. London: MacMillan, 1958.

Hargreaves, H. “Two Unidentified Reliefs from Gandhara.” Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, 1923-1924 (1926), 125-126.

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