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 / Updated  / Source: NBC News

An ancient Egyptian masterpiece, hailed by some scholars as the "Mona Lisa" of Egyptian painting, is in fact a fake created in the 19th century, a researcher says. But the painting may conceal an authentic Pyramid Age piece underneath.

The "Meidum Geese," as modern-day Egyptologists and art historians call it, was supposedly found in 1871 in a tomb located near the Meidum Pyramid, which was built by the pharaoh Snefru (reign 2610-2590 B.C). The tomb belonged to the pharaoh's son, Nefermaat, and the painting itself was supposedly found in a chapel dedicated to Nefermaat's wife Atet (also spelled Itet). A man named Luigi Vassalli discovered and removed the painting, which is now located in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. [Faux Real: See Photos of Amazing Art Forgeries]

Recent research suggests the "Meidum Geese" painting on plaster (in the Egyptian Museum of Cairo) is a fake created in the 19th century and that a real Pyramid Age painting may be hidden underneath it.Sandro Vannini

"Some scholars compared it, with due respect, to 'The Gioconda' (Mona Lisa) for the Egyptian art," wrote Francesco Tiradritti, a professor at the Kore University of Enna anddirector of the Italian archaeological mission to Egypt, in a summary of his finds sent to Live Science. The painting's beauty and detail has helped it gain this level of fame.

"Doubting the authenticity of a masterpiece seems almost impossible and it is a mentally painful process," he wrote. "After months of study, I came to the conclusion that there are few doubts on the falsification of the 'Meidum Geese.'"

But while Tiradritti's research suggests the painting is a fake, a real one may be hidden underneath. "The only thing that, in my opinion, still remains to ascertain is what was (or 'is') painted under them. But that can be only established through a noninvasive analysis," Tiradritti wrote.

Tiradritti is set to publish his findings on April 5 in the art specialty papers Giornale dell'Arte and The Art Newspaper, in Italian and English, respectively. He sent Live Science an advance summary of his finds. Tiradritti examined the painting in-person and used high-resolution photographs in his study.

The first clues that led Tiradritti to doubt the authenticity of the painting came from studying the birds depicted on it. Two of these birds were unlikely to have flown to Egypt.

— Owen Jarus, Live Science contributor

This is a condensed version of a report from Live Science. Read the full report. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+.