Date of Award

May 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Warner Wood

Committee Members

Dawn Scher Thomae, David Pacifico


Authenticity, Bolivia, Ceramics, Fake and Fraudulent, Museum Collection, South America


During the 20th century thousands, if not millions, of fake and fraudulent artifacts made their way into museum collections around the world through purchases, donations, and museum exchanges. The growth in Pre-Columbian collections, in particular, was precipitated by the many archaeological discoveries during that time as well as the continued looting of known and unrecorded sites across Latin America. As authentic items flooded the collectors’ market and from there into art and natural history museums, a mass-scale industry in fake and fraudulent artifacts arose to meet the demand. These items were primarily created for tourists, but some artists became so adept that collectors and museums were often unaware that the material they obtained were recent creations, not of archaeological origin. While the issue is heavily documented and studied for Central American countries there is little research and information regarding this enterprise in South America.While the Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM) has thousands of Latin American archaeological artifacts in its collection little focus has been on the fake, fraudulent, or reproduced artifacts from South America. The purpose of this thesis is to highlight thirty-six objects from Tiwanaku, Bolivia that were identified as inauthentic and to discuss their place within a museum context. Most of these objects have minimal associated provenience information. It is unclear as to who donated them and how they were determined to be fake or fraudulent. Questionable origins, demonstrated by this example often cause such objects to occupy a liminal state in a museum’s collection. Focused analysis on these types of objects can help museums identify, document, exhibit, and interpret questionable items making them more useful to museums around the world. This thesis used a non-invasive approach to the study of fake and fraudulent archaeological ceramic material from Tiwanaku, Bolivia in the MPM’s collections using the following methods: 1) producing a literature review of relevant publications on South American ethnographic and archaeological ceramics, which included a review of folk art traditions, archaeological studies, and articles by experts who have published on fake and fraudulent objects, 2) consultations with other scholars in the field to determine if they have found similar objects, and 3) an analysis of historical information to understand why these objects were and continue to be made. Another objective of this thesis is to identify the people involved in creating these objects and how they found their way to museums. Museums vary in how they display and house objects that are labeled as fake and fraudulent, so at the conclusion of this thesis study I outline options for housing and displaying objects that are fake and fraudulent.