A handwritten document allegedly written by Galileo Galilei is actually a fake, the University of Michigan has announced.
The single piece of paper was a gem in the University of Michigan library’s collection, according to a statement from the library.
But an internal investigation by a history professor found it to be a fake: the watermarks in the paper date back no earlier than the 18th century, more than a hundred years after the famed astronomer’s death .
“It was pretty heartbreaking when we learned that our Galileo wasn’t actually a Galileo,” said Donna L. Hayward, acting dean of Michigan Libraries. The New York Times Last week.
The university has owned the manuscript since 1938, when it was donated by trustees to Tracy McGregor, a Detroit businessman who had acquired the document at another collector’s auction in 1934.
The 1934 auction catalog claimed that Cardinal Pietro Maffi (1858-1931), Archbishop of Pisa, had authenticated the manuscript by comparing it to other Letters from Galileo in its collection, according to the University of Michigan Library.
The top of the manuscript is a draft of a letter Galileo wrote before a presentation of a new telescope to the Doge of Venice in 1609. The famous astronomer did indeed write a version of this letter – a final draft is in the archives of state in Venice, Italy.
The lower half of the document is a set of notes on the moons of Jupiter, also based on real notes taken by Galileo. The final draft of these notes is also in Italy, at the National Central Library in Florence.
But when Nick Wilding, a historian at Georgia State University, saw an image of the document, he suspected something was wrong. The ink, handwriting and some of the word choices seemed odd for a 17th century document, it Told The New York Times.
Wilding emailed University of Michigan Library Curator Pablo Alvarez in May 2022 with his concerns, and the University of Michigan launched an internal investigation.
Three months later, the university announced that Wilding was correct. The document was not authored by Galileo, but rather by Tobia Nicotra, a prolific Italian forger who operated in the 1920s and 1930s.
Declining conclusion was the watermark in the paper. Old paper often contains watermarks identifying the paper’s manufacturer and place of production, according to the University of Michigan Library.
The watermark on the Galileo paper reads “AS”, the papermaker’s initials, and “BMO”, short for Bergamo, Italy. The earliest known documents bearing the BMO monogram date from 1770, which means the document cannot be older than that.
Additionally, the university found no evidence that the Galileo document existed before the 1930s. Worse still, the two documents Maffi claimed to have compared the manuscript to in order to authenticate it turned out to be Nicotra forgeries.
According to a academic statementWilding also discovered a similar forgery of Nicotra Galileo (a letter believed to date from 1607) in the collections of the Morgan Library in New York.
The University of Michigan Library is currently reconsidering how to present the Galileo document. It is possible that the hoax itself will become a lesson.
“In the future,” according to the statement of the library“it can serve the interests of research, learning and teaching in the field of forgeries, counterfeits and hoaxes, a timeless discipline that has never been more relevant.”