Hoaxes & Pranks

The Brisbane Courier (Qld.)
Date: February 20, 1909
Page Number: 12
Tricks played on unsuspecting savants may be harmless, but it is a different matter when the scientists who are taken in by the hoax pay down a round sum in cash, as the widow and son of a late Egyptian scholar have (says the Paris correspondent of the "Daily Telegraph" on January 6) learned to their grief, if what is alleged against them is true. The crown of Saitapharnes, which was given a place of honour in the Louvre—having been bought for something like £8000 or £10,000 —and which was afterwards found to be the work of an honest and poor but clever modern Russian artist, instead of having been made 2000 years ago, is still fresh in many people's minds. A somewhat similar trick has been played on the keeper of the Guimet Museum in Paris, and the artist in this case is as innocent as in that of Saitapharnes' crown. But this time the persons who, it is alleged, are responsible for the fraud are known. They are the widow and son of the late Egyptian scholar, M. Urbain Bourriant, who, during his life, held a very high and honoured position among Egyptologists.
     The widow of this scientist called one morning at the Musee Guimet, and asked to see M. Guimet himself. She was accompanied by a servant, who carried a heavy block of granite cut in the form of a shield or scarabueus, and covered with hieroglyphics which related the reception given by the Egyptian king Nechao, son of Psammeticus, to one of his envoys who had made a long voyage along the coasts of Africa. The stone was supposed to have been found in Egypt by her husband shortly before his death. As it referred to an incident mentioned by Herodotus and a voyage controverted by him, the discovery of this inscription was at once looked upon as very important; and M. Guimet paid a sum of £130 for the stone. Later on Madame Bourriant communicated with M. Capart, the curator of the Egyptian Museum in Belgium, proposing the sale of a second scarabaeus, which supplemented the story of the first one. M. Capart offered £400, on the condition that he should have both stones, and M. Guimet very agreeably dispossessed himself of the one he had already purchased.
     Great interest was taken in the two stones by Egyptian scholars, and two very learned lectures were delivered concerning them before the Academy of Science in Paris last July. What was, therefore, the surprise of all these learned gentlemen when, on the stones being presented before the Berlin Congress of Archaeology, they were declared to be spurious. Heated discussions followed, some being partisans of their authenticity, and others proving that they were false. The question has now been settled by the mother and son both admitting, it is stated, that they had had the stones cut and shaped by a sculptor in Paris living in the Rue, Amelot, M. Beaubien. M. Beaubien, himself is astonished to learn that the two blocks of granite which he had been asked to shape according to drawings were used to hoax such distinguished Egyptian scholars. When the two blocks of granite left his atelier there was no hieroglyphic inscription on them. These were cut into them afterwards, and the stones given an antique appearance. The son of Madame Bourriant, who is a fairly good Egyptian scholar himself, and who is studying law in Paris, has, it is said, admitted that he put together the legend himself out of some fragments traced by his father. Both the mother and son were summoned to answer a few days ago a charge of fraud, and the case is being inquired into by an examining magistrate.

Hoaxes & Pranks
Scientific Hoax, 1909
Tiara of Saitaferne
Urbain Bouriant (1849-1903)
French Egyptologist
What became of the granite scarabueus? Where is it now?

What happened to Madame Bouriant and her son?

Seeking further information...