Just as not everything written on the Internet is true, historical documents are not always what they seem either. In a new twist, it appears that the Galileo Galilei manuscript hosted by Michigan State University in the US is a fake.
On the upper half of one document is the draft of a letter which the famous Italian astronomer is supposed to have enclosed with the official presentation of a newly constructed telescope to the Doges of Venice on August 24, 1609.
This telescope helped Galileo observe Jupiter’s moons, which he originally thought were stars. Galileo Galilei’s manuscript also contains a draft of his notes on observations of Jupiter’s moons from January 7 to 15, 1610, in the lower half of the document.
How was Galileo Galilei’s manuscript discovered to be a forgery?
While working on a new book about Galileo, Nick Wilding, a historian and professor at Georgia State University in the US, began to question the document.
right University of Michigan LibrariesWilding was concerned with the dating of the work, particularly the monograms with which the document was marked, which placed it no earlier than the 18th century, well after Galileo’s time.
The forgery is suspected to be the work of a 20th century forger named Tobia Nicotra.
“As soon as I heard the name ‘Nicotra,’ my ‘spider sense’ was activated,” Wilding said in an interview with The New York Times.
The Historian contacted curator Pablo Alvarez, who told the Times he felt “into the ground” when he saw Wilding’s name in the email, given his track record of uncovering fake documents.
Expert in identifying fakes
Wilding teaches a summer course on forgeries at West Virginia University’s School of Rare Books, and in 2012 he correctly identified a fake copy of Galileo’s “Sidereus Nuncius” (Starry Messenger).
He also discovered a letter from Galileo forged by Tobia Nicotra at the Morgan Library in New York City. The historian wants to uncover other forgeries after Galileo during research for his next book.
The authentic version of the letter is now in the Archivio di Stato di Venezia, Venice, and Galileo’s notes on Jupiter’s moons are part of the Sidereus Nuncius File at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, Florence.
Falsification of documents is not a modern practice
These types of forgeries of old documents are nothing new. In 2021, a team of conservators at Yale University determined that a 15th-century map of Vinland, believed to be the earliest European depiction of North America, was a 20th-century forgery.
Their study also showed that the deception was intentional, with the scientists finding instructions on forging such an old map right on the back of the document, according to Popular Science.
Additionally, a series of forged love letters written by President Abraham Lincoln were published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1929.