Manhattan dealer arrested for running a “fake antiquities mill”

Mehrdad Sadigh, owner of Sadigh Gallery in Manhattan, has been arrested on charges of creating and selling fake antiquities. He has pleaded not guilty, despite a large amount of incriminating evidence presented by the Manhattan District Attorney, to charges of scheming to defraud, grand larceny, criminal possession of a forged instrument, forgery and criminal simulation.

Sadigh Gallery was established in 1978, and has since offered a wide range of antiquities for sale, including items which were supposedly Anatolian, Babylonian, Byzantine, Greco-Roman, Mesopotamian and Sumerian. According to the New York Times, Sadigh Gallery’s website, which is no longer active, was offering various items for sale in late 2020 and early 2021, including a mummified falcon apparently dating to 305-30 BC (at a price of $9,000), an Egyptian sarcophagus mask carved from wood dating to 663-525 BC (for $5,000) and an iron and nickel fragment from a meteorite that landed in Mongolia (for $1,500). The site explicitly stated that “all of our antiquities are guaranteed authentic”.

The investigation into Sadigh dates back a few years. In fact, it was a professor and his graduate assistant at the University of Iowa who first suspected the Sadigh Gallery of criminal activities. In 2019, an exhibition about the Rosetta Stone was scheduled to open at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in Iowa. Professor Bjorn Anderson and his graduate assistant Erin Daly became suspicious of many of the items in the upcoming exhibition, which led to Anderson writing to the museum and stating that 90 out of the 125 items in the exhibit, “are either definite or very likely fakes”. Anderson and Daly were sceptical of many of the ancient seals, with Daly commenting to the West Branch Times that “I’ve never seen any that big or that nice”. Anderson and Daly noticed that on the Sadigh Gallery website many seals of a similar quality were for sale. It also became evident that items due to appear in the exhibition had been purchased twenty years prior from Sadigh Gallery.

Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, said in a statement following Sadigh’s arrest earlier this month, that: “For many years, this fake antiquities mill based in midtown Manhattan promised customers rare treasures from the ancient world and instead sold them pieces manufactured on-site in cookie-cutter fashion.” Sadigh’s fake antiquities scheme unravelled after undercover federal investigators purchased items from the gallery, including a gold pendant depicting the death mask of Tutankhamen and a marble portrait head of a Roman woman. These purchases formed the basis for the investigation. A subsequent search of the gallery led to the discovery of hundreds of fake artifacts in shelves and glass cabinets, with thousands more in the rooms behind the gallery, some of which were at varying stages of preparation. The chief of the District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit, Matthew Bogdanos, said that investigators also found varnish, spray paints, a belt sander and mud-like substances of differing hues and consistencies, among other tools and materials.

2 thoughts on “Manhattan dealer arrested for running a “fake antiquities mill”

  1. Robert Yohe says:

    Interestingly, Sadigh Gallery has long been known by both the well-schooled antiquities collectors and professional archaeologists alike as a seller of really pretty obvious forgeries, I recall visiting their website once a year or so ago and was astounded at the flagrant poor quality of their offerings and the fact that many of the hieroglyphic texts on certain artifacts were pure gibberish rather than names or actual ancient Egyptian phrases. In fact, I had even used Sadigh as an example of a gallery in the United States that sold facsimiles of Egyptian artifacts similar in quality to many produced in modern Egypt to sell to tourists for my Egyptian archaeology course that I teach at a state university, the difference being that at least in Egypt many of the purveyors of the replicas will admit that they are selling modern facsimiles (although some don’t; I remember one fellow who swore that the epoxy statue of Bes they just sold me was made from real basalt!). What makes the Sadigh situation so egregious is that the replicas were not even of high enough quality to use as good or even typical examples of actual Egyptian antiquities. The irony here is that most archaeologists would rather have people buy replicas than recently looted antiquities since the plundering of archaeological sites continues to be a terrible problem that continues to plague places like Egypt, especially following the Arab Spring when there was a vacuum in the protection of major archaeological localities. This lapse of protection has led to the permanent destruction of extremely important historical sites and the loss of critical scientific information. Looting is a world-wide problem that has ravaged archaeological resources around the world for many hundreds (and in some cases, thousands) of years. As a professional archaeologist, I would actually rather people collect quality replicas, like those produced by museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre; not only are they quality made, but they don’t lead to the destruction of ancient sites. What makes the Sadigh case particularly reprehensible is that people were being charged exorbitant prices, sometimes many thousands of dollars, for a below-average copy of a plaster-of-Paris statue stained and distressed to look old, but being made directly on the premises to intentionally dupe the public. In this situation, the only winner was the unscrupulous gallery owner. In a perfect world, everyone would be happy with good-quality replicas, but would seek those replicas out instead of yearning for real ancient artifacts, since many of the artifacts antiquities market today–not all, but most–have been the result of modern looting activities, an act that is both illegal and leads to the destruction of our collective heritage.

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