Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Great fakers scammed ancient Italy

An ingenious counterfeit-coin scam has been rumbled by scientists in Italy. But no one is going to jail, because the forgers lived more than 2,000 years ago.

Giuseppe Giovannelli of the University of Rome 'La Sapienza' and his colleagues took a close look at what seemed to be a silver coin minted in southern Italy in the third century BC. It turned out to be a lump of lead with a thin silver coating.

This is not the first example of counterfeiting in the ancient world, but the researchers say that in this case the silver coating seems to have been created by a sophisticated chemical process.

"We are not yet aware of any other counterfeit coins like this one," says Giovannelli.

One would think fake coins would be fairly rare since they had to have had some standard by which to measure silver content. That is, a silver-covered lead coin of the same size as a true silver coin would have a different weight which would be caught fairly easily. Maybe that's why they're so rare. Or maybe no one's really looked before.