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Real Vs Fake: Faience amulets under a microscope.

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T B2:
Hello Egyptian collectors!

Anyone who has tried to get into the hobby of collecting Egyptian antiquities will quickly come to realize just how many fakes are out there. It can feel a little overwhelming at times, but there are a few good ways to tell what's real and what's not, as long as you can inspect the artifact closely.
I'll post a few images here that I feel may be helpful for anyone trying to identify if an ancient Egyptian artifact is real or fake.
Sometimes simply checking under a microscope is a good way to determine if it's real when other observations fail. This is most helpful for faience, but can help with many forms of ancient ceramics.  

In this case, I examined a pair of faience amulets under a microscope. One amulet was genuine, the other a clever fake. Both amulets looked similar at first glance.
The differences are shown in the below images, which I made during a project several years ago.

TOP PHOTO: These magnified images are from a real faience Thoth amulet bought from a reliable antiquities dealer at private auction. Take note of the uneven glazing, variation of color, and dust in all of the little nooks and crannies. The faience glaze is opaque, due to the high amount of impurities in the ancient formula. You'll have a hard time seeing air bubbles in the glassy parts. Any rough areas have been filled with caked-on dust, which even the most protected amulets will accumulate over time.

The fourth slide is a magnification of a small hole in the amulet. The dust is fibrous and caked on thickly. This is likely "mummy dust," although it could also be the remains of a string. It is a complex mixture of many materials, fibers, dust, resin, etc. Sellers who try to fake mummy dust tend to use one material, which causes the dust to seem to be a uniform composition under magnification. Some sellers will sprinkle their amulets with real mummy dust, but it will fail to get into all the nooks and crannies, leaving some areas with clean, glassy holes where bubbles caused flaws in the glaze.

Below you'll see images of a fake amulet. Take note of the clearly visible bubbles in the glaze, and the overall uniformity of color and cleanliness of the surface. You'll notice you can see the bubbles deep below the surface, due to how clear and pure the glaze is - a sign of industrially refined chemicals.
This is not what you'd see on an object that has been collecting dust for thousands of years. Even the best preserved artifacts will have some build up. On higher magnifications with a better microscope, small flecks of shiny dust, likely metal flakes, can be seen. These most likely would have corroded away in the ancient samples.

BOTTOM PHOTO: Magnified images of a fake faience Anubis amulet sold by the notorious seller of fakes on eBay, "collector08888." (I knew it was fake when I bought it, although he insisted it was genuine.)

Fakers have been getting better at making convincing fakes, but hopefully this will help the average collector weed out some of the less obvious fakes.

Thanks for reading!

Joe Sermarini:
Excellent post. Thanks.


  wich microscope did you use?

   thank you

T B2:
Any microscope capable of magnifying up to 50x should be sufficient to provide similar results when comparing samples.

thank you for the reply


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