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The Sciences

Galileo's Manuscript Was Forged, Along With 2 Other False Archeological Finds

From the lost colony of Roanoke to the Shroud of Turin, these historic momentos are actually fabricated.

By Emilie Le Beau LucchesiMay 13, 2024 10:00 AM
shroud ofTurin
(Credit: Mltz/Shutterstock)

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In 1869, swindler George Hull pitched a tent in upstate New York and charged people 50 cents to step right up and view the remains of a petrified giant.

The Cardiff Giant was supposedly the skeleton of an extinct human species. In reality, Hull had two sculptors carve a 10-foot-tall, realistic giant from stone. He made $56,000 (more than $1 million in today’s money) before his scam was debunked.

For decades, Hull boasted he had tricked the public into believing his giant was real. But he actually defrauded the public by taking their admissions fees.

Although the word “hoax” is often used to describe forgeries or frauds, swindlers’ scams can be serious. In many cases, these frauds are not only criminal but also misleading for scientists. 

1. Forged Galileo Manuscript

(Credit: davide bonaldo/Shutterstock)

For historian Nick Wilding, the word “hoax” is too mild and implies a forgery was a silly prank, not a criminal activity. He’s identified forged copies of texts like Galileo Galilei’s Sidereus Nuncius and says historians and scientists need authentic historical documentation.

“Otherwise, it would be saying that falsifying scientific data is acceptable,” says Wilding, a professor of history at Georgia State University.

Among science historians, Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius is considered one of the most important books. When a copy emerged in New York (known as the Martayan Lan copy), Wilding was skeptical that a document from the early 1600s could appear suddenly.

“I thought this was too good to be true,” he says. “Where has it been? Why is it emerging now?”

Wilding launched an investigation. He identified the stamp as a newer version, which initially made him think the book itself was authentic but altered to enhance its value. But the further he scrutinized the text, the more he saw discrepancies.

“I looked at Galileo’s signature, and it didn’t match. All the superficial features seemed to be fake,” Wilding says.

In his research, Wilding learned an entire book can be forged by taking images of each page and then creating a three-dimensional printing plate that “bites” into the page like an archaic printer.

“It makes something that feels very much like an old-fashioned book,” Wilding says.

The images, however, also capture every smear or ink smudge and bite those into the page as well. For Wilding, that was a key piece of evidence the book was actually a forgery.

The forgery was traced to Marino Massimo De Caro, an Italian library director who was later convicted for his part in a crime ring that stole and sold rare books. He also created forgeries, including the Martayan Lan copy, that sold for millions of dollars. De Caro claimed his actions were a hoax, meant as a prank. A criminal court disagreed and sentenced him to seven years. Wilding also disagreed. 

“He stole thousands of thousands of books. He ripped out library stamps; he destroyed them,” Wilding says.  

The Martayan Lan copy was a forgery that was sold to a collector who believed in Galileo’s contributions to science.


Read More: 12 Fascinating Facts About Galileo Galilei You May Not Know


2. The Shroud of Turin

(Credit: Mltz/Shutterstock)

Forgeries have also been used to take money from people who have deep spiritual beliefs. The New Testament makes no mention that Jesus of Nazareth was wrapped in a burial shroud. But in the 1300s, a French knight claimed he found it during his battles abroad. He presented it to the dean of a church located in northern France.

The shroud appeared to have the faint likeness of a man in a reddish color, which many took as blood stains. The knight and the dean couldn’t explain where the shroud had been for 1,300-plus years, and the Catholic church did not consider it authentic. People, however, were curious, and the dean charged the faithful to see it.

The church took possession of the shroud until the early 1400s when the knight’s granddaughter offered to take it for safekeeping during The Hundred Years’ War. She then took the shroud on tour and charged people to view it. Eventually, the shroud made its way to a chapel in Torino, Italy, and was dubbed The Shroud of Turin.

As the centuries passed, various authorities with credibility stated they believed in the authenticity of the shroud, which prompted many to believe it was indeed real.

Although some people still believe it is authentic, scientists have determined it was forged in the 1300s after analysis dated the linen fibers to that time period.   


Read More: Is the Shroud of Turin Real?


3. The Roanoke Dare Stone

(Credit: Morphart Creation/Shutterstock)

The Lost Colony of Roanoke has puzzled scholars for centuries. They aren’t sure what happened to the 115 English colonists last seen in 1587 on the outer banks of North Carolina. Few clues exist, which has allowed fraudsters to supply false artifacts.

After the colonists arrived, their governor realized they were dangerously low on supplies. He returned to England, but the war and weather prevented him from voyaging until 1590. When he returned, all the colonists were gone.

For centuries, historians have wondered if the colonists perished or if they assimilated with the Algonquin.

In the late 1930s, a man brought a large stone to Emory University for analysis. It appeared to be inscribed by Eleanor Dare, the governor’s daughter. In the coming years, researchers offered rewards for the discovery of any more inscribed stones.

Forty-seven more stones were “discovered” hundreds of miles away.  The stones were inscribed with an ongoing saga of the colonists’ demise. These stones were initially considered authentic but quickly discredited as a fabrication by locals who wanted reward money.

The first stone, however, has never been fully confirmed or discredited. In recent years, researchers cut into the dark-hued stone and found it is lighter internally. This supports the theory that stone was carved in the 1500s and has darkened over the centuries.

Given the other stones’ reputation, scholars hesitate to take a firm stance. The stone describes years of disease and war with the locals, resulting in the quick demise of all the colonists. Few scholars are willing to risk being associated with a forged relic, and research has been stonewalled.


Read More: 5 Interesting Archeological Discoveries Within the Last Decade


Article Sources

Our writers at Discovermagazine.com use peer-reviewed studies and high-quality sources for our articles, and our editors review for scientific accuracy and editorial standards. Review the sources used below for this article:


Emilie Lucchesi has written for some of the country's largest newspapers, including The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and an MA from DePaul University. She also holds a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Illinois-Chicago with an emphasis on media framing, message construction and stigma communication. Emilie has authored three nonfiction books. Her third, "A Light in the Dark: Surviving More Than Ted Bundy," was co-authored with survivor Kathy Kleiner Rubin.

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