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December, 4, 2016

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Ancient Mixtec-skull art a forgery: museum

THE HAGUE--An 800-year-old Mexican skull decorated with turquoise mosaic, for decades believed to have been a masterpiece of Mixtec indigenous art is a forgery, a Dutch museum and media said Saturday.

The National Museum of Ethnology in the western university city of Leiden made the shock discovery after an intensive four-year study on the skull, one of only around 20 in existence world-wide.

"Radiometric dating showed the skull and the turquoise are from the correct time period and origin and are authentic," the museum said on its website.

"But alas: further investigation showed a 20th-century glue was used (to mount the mosaic)," the museum said.

The teeth are also false "as it was too well preserved for a skull that lay underground for centuries," Dutch daily Trouw reported.

The museum bought the piece in 1963 for the equivalent of around US$20,000 (19,000 euros) and was seen as a striking example of ancient Mesoamerican art.

An investigation into possible skulduggery was launched after the museum's conservator Martin Berger received a telephone call back in 2010 from a French colleague in Marseille, Trouw said.

The colleague told Berger they received a similar skull from a private collection and that person who donated the art had doubts about its authenticity.

Berger and his colleagues travelled to a Paris-based laboratory where the Dutch-owned skull was analyzed and where "we realized that ours was also a bit more 'modern' than we thought."

Berger told the paper he suspected the fake was mounted by a Mexican dentist back in the 1940s or 1950s, when Mexican archeological sites were subjected to large-scale plunder and dealing in artworks like those of the Mixtecs was a lucrative business.

Asked whether he was disappointed by the revelation, Berger told the newspaper: "No."

"In actual fact it's given us a bizarre story and that's exactly what museums want to do, to tell stories.

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