Ancient Egyptian bric-a-brac

July 19, 2014

As we approach the centenary of the start of the Great War this year and the landings at Gallipoli there will be increasing attention paid to what the Australian and New Zealand troops did overseas, and not just their military adventures.  An early entry into what is likely to become a crowded field is a nifty little blog posting developed by Dr Brit Asmussen of the Queensland Museum as part of National Archaeology Week 2014.

The Bric-a-brac of war looks at Egyptian material acquired by the Queensland Museum or held privately by descendants of diggers, and includes some excellent images of both ancient and modern style fakes.

Some of this material and the same sort of stuff collected during World War II seems to have ended up either accidentally or deliberately fooling people into believing the presence of ancient Egyptians.  In the Secret Visitors Project we have already explored a number of these and concluded that they were very modern artefacts.

At the time the importation of fake souvenirs was recognised as targeting the more gullible, but there were also large numbers of ‘authentic’ artefacts being imported for sale with no restriction.  My research found a few leads on an otherwise untold story.

The Gordonvale Scarab – discovered around the end of the Great War, and very likely to have been a hoax that still continues to have its defenders.  Part of the joke was that Egypt and Gordonvale, where scarab beetles were devastating the sugar cane crop and were subject to a bounty, were the two places on earth where you could make money from digging up scarabs.

The Daly River scarab – likely to have been brought back during the Second World War and found in the early 1960s.

The Geraldton Plate – dug up in the early 1960s, at seemingly great depth in the Western Australian port town.

The Ptolemaic coin found at Barron Falls is likely to also be a hoax or the mis-remembering of something that happened decades earlier.

Asmussen’s work reminds us that these are not things that happened a long time ago.  There are still many artefacts in peoples’ personal collections and, as the story of their origin is lost with passing lives, the vacuum is all too easily filled with stories of ancient Egyptians and false discoveries.

My thanks to Steve Spillard for drawing my attention to this.


Dr Brit Asmussen 2014
The Bric-a-brac of war, Queensland Museum –  Can be accessed here.


Gordonvale scarab – 3

February 10, 2013

For the earlier parts of the Gordonvale scarab story go to Part 1 and Part 2.

A practical joke?

This leads me to propose that that finding of the scarab was a practical joke.  Not singling out Isaac Brown or any unnamed perpetrator, we have a well that needs re-digging on a property either immediately before, during or maybe even just after the Great War.  The standard process would be [1] hoaxer brings scarab in his pocket, [2] chucks it in hole when no one is looking, [3] innocent pulls up a spadeful of dirt and sees scarab, [4] hilarity ensues, [5] culprit confesses, [6] revenge plotted.  That would work anywhere in Australia.  In Gordonvale, however, the joke has added meaning and irresistibility, because it and Egypt are the only two places on Earth where you get money for digging up scarabs.

I would argue that the standard joke was given a much sharper edge in the Gordonvale area, precisely because farmers would have been aware of the double meaning of the scarab beetle.  For the joke to work the scarab has to be so out of place and incongruous that it cannot have been mistaken for a rock.  Therefore a fairly large one was required.  When it was dug up, the joke worked on three distinct levels. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordonvale scarab – 2

February 10, 2013

For the first part of this discussion go to Part 1.

Clive Morton’s account

Almost all mentions of the Gordonvale scarab say that it was found when digging a well in 1910, 1911 or 1912.  In a paper held by the Mulgrave Settlers Museum local historian and author Clive Morton offered a slightly different account.  He says

The Egyptian scarab beetle above was dug up at Napiers property at Packers Camp between 1912 and 1915.  The Napiers tried to draw water from nearby Mackeys Creek with a windmill and a pipe buried under the dirt road and into what came to be called the Pump Hole which was a favourite swimming hole up until the 1950s when it silted up.  Napiers found that the pump would not draw and they asked for expert advice. This came from either Muir chief engineer of Mulgrave Mill and later a water driller or a man called Ebrington. The advice was to lower the suction pipe under the mill to assist with drawing the water which they did and the scarab beetle came up with one shovel full of dirt.  Claims that Isaac Brown a local man brought a fake scarab beetle home from the Middle East during WW1 are wrong because he did not get to the Middle East as his troop ship returned to Sydney from a day or two on the way when the war ended.  [Morton no date]

Morton’s additional detail is important – it provides an exact find location, the property owner and clarifies that it took place when an existing windmill pump drawing water from Mackey’s Creek was being repaired.  The scarab came from what seems to have been the first spadeful of dirt.  The date is later than that usually cited, and there is an interesting, unprompted mention of Isaac Brown, who could not have planted it as a hoax. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordonvale scarab – 1

February 10, 2013

The Gordonvale scarab is one of two found in remote Australian locations that are frequently brought forward in support of secret visitor claims.  The other, the Daly River scarab from the Northern Territory, is much better known, and has already been discussed in the Secret Visitors Project.

While the Gordonvale scarab appears to have been known about in that part of northern Queensland for decades, it only achieved publicity from about 1985 through Marilyn Pye’s investigations of alleged Egyptian sites near Walsh’s Pyramid, a naturally pyramidal mountain near Gordonvale.  Since then it has been cited either in conjunction with Pye’s other claims or been picked up by others as demonstrating Egyptian presence in far north Queensland.

In this post, and the two following, I want to take a close look at the Gordonvale scarab and put forward what I think are the key elements of its discovery, and why it should not be considered as proof of Egyptian contact.

Read the rest of this entry »

Daly River scarab

July 22, 2012

In 1963 it was reported in a letter to People magazine that an Egyptian scarab had been discovered by some children while playing beside the road near the Daly River, in the Northern Territory of Australia.  This discovery soon featured in articles about secret visitors written by Michael Terry in the mid-late 1960s, was picked up and promoted by Rex Gilroy in the 1980s and 90s, and then perpetuated and spread by the internet in the 2000s.  Is it actual proof of Egyptian contact?  Is it an actual scarab?  Is it actual anything?  Read on for the story.

Read the rest of this entry »

Egyptian antiquities in Australia – real and fake

January 20, 2011

In the course of my research I have come across some useful information on the trade in fake Egyptian antiquities in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  These were mainly aimed at the tourist market rather than the art collector or connoisseur, generally small items like scarabs and coins rather than sculpture or mummies.  Given the abundance of Egyptian finds that have been claimed as evidence for secret visitors to Australia I thought it may be worth getting some of this better documented. Read the rest of this entry »