6. The Tiara of Saitaphernes
Well apparently the phrase “any publicity is good publicity” was true for Israel Rouchomovsky, the man behind this next forgery.
In 1896, Russian antiquities dealers were offering quite an accessory to the Louvre Museum in Paris. They were holding onto a gold tiara, said to be a true masterpiece of the Hellenistic period. It was assumed to have been a gift from Olbia, an ancient Greek city, to a Scythian king named Saitaphernes. Enamored with the find, the Louvre handed out $50,000 to the dealers, prepared to put their new purchase on display.
However, they were soon to be disappointed. Scholars began questioning the authenticity of the tiara, but the museum refuted any and all accusations that the tiara was a forgery. Eventually, Louvre officials’ wisened up and discovered that the tiara likely had been manufactured by a goldsmith from Odessa, Ukraine. This goldsmith was Israel Rouchomovsky.
Still questioning the piece, Louvre officials brought Rouchomovsky to Paris in 1903 to see if he could replicate a portion of the tiara. Claiming he had no idea that the Russian dealers were looking to commit fraud, Rouchomovsky refused to become a suspect. And his efforts only served to put more attention on the scandal, which later ended up boosting his career and inciting fans to request his work.
5. Drake’s Plate of Brass
Found in Northern California in 1936, Drake’s Plate was an inscribed brass artifact believed to have been a treasure left behind by explorer Francis Drake. Followed by his crew from the vessel Golden Hind, they were stated to have abandoned the piece when they landed on the California coast, ready to claim the territory for England. The plate soon became a part of history, going so far as to be mentioned in school textbooks, as well as exhibited around the world.
This all came to an end, however, by 1977 when researchers doing scientific analysis on the plate learned the artifact was fake, and that it was actually produced in a more contemporary era.
It wasn’t until 2003 that historians revealed the plate had come into being as a practical joke. Colleagues of Herbert Bolton, a UC Berkeley history professor, knew he would be fascinated by such a timeless piece, as he had long been a fan of Drake’s history. So the pranksters created this âmasterpiece’ and, before they could reveal their secret, Bolton had accepted the plate as authentic and acquired it for the library where he also worked.
4. The Cardiff Giant
In the year 1869, workers were busy constructing a well on a farm in Cardiff, New York. While they were digging, they uncovered what appeared to be the ancient body of a 10-foot-tall, petrified man.
Naturally, the discovery spurred a massive reaction from the public, and scientific experts jumped on the bandwagon, claiming the “Cardiff Giant” was historically significant. However, the giant was actually just the mischievous workings of George Hull, a cigar manufacturer and proud atheist. While Hull was traveling through Iowa for business, he got involved in a heated debate with a minister about a passage from the Book of Genesis that stated: “There were giants in the earth in those days.”
Intent on making a point to people who interpret the Bible too seriously, Hull hired sculptors in Chicago to create a human replica using gypsum. Once the product was finished, he shipped it to his friend, William “Stub” Newell, and buried it on his farm. Within a year, Newell would take Hull’s advice to dig a well on his land and find the body.
Once the “giant” was resurrected, Newell’s farm was a sensation, and he began charging admission to see it. The discovery was short-lived, however, when Othniel Charles Marsh, a paleontologist, declared the giant as a hoax. By 1870, the sculptors also confessed to the prank, ending the conspiracy of the Cardiff Giant.
3. The Etruscan Warriors
New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has always acquired exquisite pieces. Yet, in the 1920’s, they were granted three life-size, Etruscan, terracotta warriors that they believed were made in the 5th century B.C. The warriors’ authenticity was criticized by some experts, yet many claimed the figures were real.
The answer was eventually settled when, in 1960, scientific testing debunked the initial idea, stating that the warriors were of modern origin. The statues had been made by a group of Italian men who modeled them after tinier figures they’d seen at museums beforehand, decades before the truth was found out.
2. The Skull of Calaveras County
In 1866, while digging in a mine under volcanic deposits, miners in Calaveras County, California came across a human skull nestled 100 feet deep. Harvard University professor and California state geologist Josiah Whitney initially believed it could date back to the Pliocene age, which would make it over 5 million years old.
He was later proved wrong as news surfaced about local men playing Whitney for a fool.
1. The Invention of the Bathtub
Journalist H.L. Mencken decided to take it upon himself to test the American public on their gullibility. In 1917, “The Evening Mail” newspaper ran a story by called “A Neglected Anniversary,” about the public not celebrating the 75th anniversary of the invention of the bathtub. Despite the article being filled with lies and random, fabricated details of the bathtub’s history, the public ate it up and believed every word of Mencken’s story.
It went so far as to be reprinted in multiple newspapers, while some details even appeared in reference books. Mencken later tried to admit his guilt in print, but numerous people still continued to believe the concocted story.