Petrographic Analysis

Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

Summary of the book

What makes a museum object "real" or "fake"? This publication explores this question through the intensive study of a single object. In Real Fake: The Story of a Zapotec Urn, ROM researchers and their colleagues take us from life in Mexico's Valley of Oaxaca during the fifth century CE to present-day analyses conducted in cutting-edge laboratories on two continent.

Understanding this urn meant exploring ancient tombs, diving into archives, and opening the storerooms of the world's greatest museums. Yet, these efforts only yielded a fraction of the story. Much of the urn's truths still remained trapped within the clay, pigment, adhesives, and metal from which it had been cobbled together.

The end result is the account of a Frankenstein, an object hidden away for decades in the ROM's vaults that was created by combining new pieces with millennia-old spare parts.


  • Justin Jennings
  • Adam T. Sellen

Publication Type

Book Name

Real Fake: The Story of a Zapotec Urn