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Latest Archeological and Cultural News of Iran and the Iranian World


How Rag and Bone Man Left Grandson a 2,400-Year-Old Iranian Treasure *


28 May 2008



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  The 22-carat gold cup has been described by experts as stunning (Click to enlarge)


By Maev Kennedy


LONDON, (CAIS) -- Now that the little gold cup has left the shoebox under his bed and is heading for an auction room, John Webber rather regrets the pot-shots he took with his air gun - even though the dents did flatten out nicely with the back of a spoon. After all, it now has a £500,000 price on its head.

If scientific tests and expert opinion are correct, his grandfather's gift must represent the best scrap metal find ever. The mystery object may be genuine lost treasure, a unique piece beaten out of a single sheet of gold in the Middle East, somewhere in the vast Achaemenid empire which spread from mainland-Iran to become the first of the Persian empires and the largest empire of the ancient world, until overthrown by Alexander in 330 BCE. The skill of the Achaemenid metal workers, who made exquisite objects in sheet gold and silver, was renowned.


Webber, 70, was given the cup by his grandfather William Sparks, a scrap metal dealer in Taunton, before his death in 1945. "He had a very good eye, Grandad, he was always picking up all sorts everywhere he went," Webber recalled. "Heaven knows where he got this, he never said. Half the people in Taunton used to call into him on the way home and sell him stuff, if they'd had a bad day at the races, usually their gold watches.

"My father died in the war and me and my mother had to move from Bridgewater to Taunton, so I think he had a soft spot for me, and that's why he gave me these little things." He was first loaned the cup to play with as a child, when it suffered the air gun pellet attack.

Sparks began dealing in metal from his Romany caravan, but settled in Taunton in the early 20th century and ran a scrap metal business from the yard behind his house. He was well known in the town, always impeccably turned out, with a fresh white shirt every day.

Webber assumed his odd little mug, just over 5in high and decorated with the heads of two women looking in opposite directions, their foreheads ornamented with knotted snakes, was brass, which his grandfather always had in quantities.

It was only when he was packing to move house last year that he wondered again about it, and called in a researcher, who sent it for testing to the Harwell campus in Oxfordshire on the advice of the British Museum. The scientific report by Peter Northover suggested that the gold was ancient, and from the Middle East.


"The method of manufacture and the composition of the gold are consistent with Achaemenid gold and goldsmithing. Although Janus was not part of Achaemenid mythology, cups and beakers made with high relief heads do appear in Achaemenid art," the report said.


An American archaeologist, Jeannine Davis-Kimball, who has only seen detailed photographs of the cup, described it as "stunning", and said the heraldic snakes were characteristic of the art of what is now eastern Iran - though on stylistic grounds, she would date it earlier than the metal analysis suggests.

Webber now wonders if his grandfather had a hunch about it. "I think he must have known it was gold, but he used to send a lot of gold he got to somebody else in the family who was a jeweller - so this could well have been melted down, but for some reason he kept it back."



The cup, which is 5.5in (14 cm) high, is embossed with two female faces, each wearing a crown formed from snakes. It baffled experts from the British Museum until metallurgical tests identified its likely origins as Achaemenid Iran.


Fortunately for his peace of mind, Webber says the cup was safely in his shoebox long before the infamous Greenhalgh family of art forgers got to work in Bolton: the cup is precisely the kind of exquisite but unique object that Shaun Greenhalgh, now in jail for conspiracy to defraud, used to knock out in his garden shed.


It will be sold next week - along with two other pieces of gold from the shoebox, a Greek figure of Ajax valued at £2,000, and a Roman gold spoon valued at £10,000 - at a small regional auction house, Duke's in Dorchester, which has form in turning up lost treasures. Earlier this year it sold a Picasso drawing, and 18 months ago a pair of 15th century paintings by Fra Angelico, found hanging on the spare bedroom door of a retired librarian: they went for a record £1.7m .Auctioneer Guy Schwinge said: "The scientific analysis of the cup speaks for itself. Bearing in mind the different views of the experts, it will be fascinating to see what happens on the day of auction."

Webber, who is selling because he has six grandchildren he would like to help out, still hasn't made up his mind whether he can bear to attend the auction. "I don't know whether I could face going - or whether I could face not being there to see what happens. If any museum can prove this is a fake, I wouldn't be happy, but at least I'd know."



CAIS Note:

If the artefact to be taken seriously and considered to be genuine, it should be deemed as the most unique Achaemenid artwork has ever been discovered in the world. However, contrary to some claims by experts and Oxford lab results confirming the artefact being of an Achaemenid origin, here at CAIS we believe the article is a fake, since the style, theme and iconography used for creation of this vessel is quite alien to Achaemenid art. 





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Extracted From/Source: The Guardian  [*]




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