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An Archaeometric Analysis of the “Miriam Ossuary” – Zissu and Goren, 2011




The research article of the unprovenanced artifact known as the “Miriam Ossuary” acquired and commissioned by the Israel Antiquity Authority is an important step in the continuing quest for the identification of forged vs. real artifacts, especially in Israel (Zissu and Goren, 2011). In a country where most of the artifacts were and are being looted (mainly from Judea and Shomron,) no artifacts should be discarded; on the contrary, they should all be studied by scholars.



By Amnon Rosenfeld
Emeritus, Geological Survey of Israel
Jerusalem, Israel

Shimon Ilani
Geological Survey of Israel
Jerusalem, Israel

H. R. Feldman
The Anna Ruth and Mark Hasten School
Touro College, Division of Paleontology, N.Y.
American Museum of Natural History
New York
November 2011


The research article of the unprovenanced artifact known as the “Miriam Ossuary” acquired and commissioned by the Israel Antiquity Authority is an important step in the continuing quest for the identification of forged vs. real artifacts, especially in Israel (Zissu and Goren, 2011). In a country where most of the artifacts were and are being looted (mainly from Judea and Shomron), no artifacts should be discarded; on the contrary, they should all be studied by scholars.

Basically, the archaeometric analysis of the “Miriam Ossuary” (op. cit.) follows our successful model for authentication of the patina within the inscriptions and on the decorations of the “James Ossuary,” the “Jehoash inscription tablet,” and the “stone oil lamp” with the seven species (Ganor, 2009; Ilani et al. 2002, 2008; Krumbein, 2005; Rosenfeld, 2002; Rosenfeld and Feldman, 2007; Rosenfeld et al. 2009, 2010, 2011a, b). Our analytical methods included examination of the chemo-bio-geological features, a study of the micro-morphological relief (e.g., pitting, scratches), a tabulation and identification of the microfossils embedded in the patina, and the distribution of the elements and minerals found in the stone and in the patina. Our laboratory technique utilized a stereoscopic microscope, a diffractometer (XRD), and a scanning electron microscope attached to a dispersive analyzer micro-probe SEM-EDS. Zissu and Goren (2011) used the same methodology in reaching their conclusion that the inscription was authentic. We stress that the oxygen isotopes were not measured to authenticate the “Miriam Ossuary.” We regret that these conventional methods were not applied in the archaeometric studies of the unprovenanced “James Ossuary” and the “Jehoash inscription tablet” (Ayalon, 2003; Ayalon et al., 2004; Goren, 2003; Goren, 2005; Goren et al., 2004). Instead an unproven oxygen isotope methodology was used to determine that these archaeological artifacts were forgeries.

Twenty-four hours after our investigation of the Jehoash inscription was published in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz (13 January 2003), Prof. Y. Goren (Archaeology Department, Tel Aviv University) addressed a letter to the head of the Geological Survey of Israel and to the editor of the newspaper Ha’aretz. In his letter, Goren, without even seeing the tablet, dismissed the authenticity of the “Jehoash inscription tablet” (JI) comparing it to a series of fantasy artifacts like the Arc of Noah. Goren expressed his concern that the collector might profit due to our examination. Moreover, he urged us not to publish our “pseudo-research” because the JI is certainly a fake (Goren’s letter dated 14 January 2003 is entered into evidence at the antiquities trial [2005-present] in the Jerusalem District Court and available upon request).

We have some reservations about Zissu and Goren’s (2011) work. The distribution of the elements is not clear. There are no quantitative elemental weights determinations. The presence of whewellite (hydrated calcium oxalate and other oxalates), the main product of bio-patination, was actually not determined but only presumed. In our studies, this product of bio-patina mineralization was definitely determined. Zissu and Goren (2011) used the Krumbein’s works on patination in their report yet pointedly omitted Krumbein’s (2005) study in which he determined that the inscriptions on the “James Ossuary,” the “Jehoash inscription tablet” and the “stone oil lamp” decorations (the seven species) were authentic and concluded that they were not forgeries.

Zissu and Goren (2011) identified the soil attached to the “Miriam Ossuary” as a terra rossa (dark color) soil. However, according to the Israel soil map the “‘Ella Valley soil contains redzina (light color) and alluvium type of soils.” This kind of soil is well developed on chalks that are found in the surrounding mountains (Eocene) of the ‘Ella Valley. Thus, the first location determined by Zissu and Goren (2011) as the original cave in which the “Miriam Ossuary” was found, that is the ‘Ella Valley, appears to be incorrect. The terra rossa soil type found on the “Miriam Ossuary” could definitely have been developed in Israel not only in the Jerusalem mountain region but also in the Galilee but definitely not in the ‘Ella Valley.



References

Ayalon, A., 2003, IAA - Final reports on the Yehoash Inscription and James Ossuary From the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

Ayalon, A., Bar-Matthews, M., Goren, Y., 2004, “Authenticity examination of the inscription on the ossuary attributed to James, brother of Jesus.” Journal of Archaeological Science 31, 1185–1189.

Ganor E., Kronfeld J., Feldman H.R., Rosenfeld A., Ilani S., 2009, “Environmental dust: A tool to study the patina of ancient artifacts.” Journal of Arid Environments 73, 1170–1176.

Goren Y., 2003, IAA- Final reports on the Yehoash Inscription and James Ossuary From the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

Goren, Y. 2005, “The Jerusalem Syndrome in Biblical Archaeology,” Society of Biblical Literature. Forum.

Goren, Y., Ayalon, A., Bar-Mathews, M., Shilman, B., 2004, “Authenticity examination of the Jehoash inscription.” Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University 31, 3–16.

Ilani, S., Rosenfeld, A., Dvorachek, M., 2002, “Archaeometry of a stone tablet wit Hebrew inscription referring to repair of the house.” Israel Geological Survey. Current Research 13, 109–116.

Ilani, S., Rosenfeld, A., Feldman, H. R., Krumbein, W. E. K. and Kronfeld, J., 2008, “Archaeometric analysis of the Jehoash Inscription tablet.” Journal of Archaeological Science 35, 2966-2972.

Krumbein, Wolfgang E. 2005, Preliminary Report: External Expert Opinion on Three Stone Items [with photos of the James Ossuary in a separate file, PDF], 1-36.

Rosenfeld, A. and Ilani, S., 2002, “SEM- EDS analyses of patina samples from an ossuary of ‘Yaakov son of Yossef Brother of Yeshua.’” Biblical Archaeology Review, November-December, 2002, 29.

Rosenfeld, A. and Feldman H R., 2007,“Archaeometric overview of the Jehoash Inscription and James Ossuary.” Jerusalem Forgery Conference, Special Report Biblical Archaeology Society January, 16-18, 2007, 39-40.

Rosenfeld, A., Ilani, S., Feldman, H. R., Krumbein, W. E., and Kronfeld, J., 2009, “Archaeometric Evidence for the Authenticity of the Jehoash Inscription Tablet,” updated and expanded version. Antiguo Oriente 7, 57-73; original version, The Bible and Interpretation, 2008.

Rosenfeld A., Ilani S., Krumbein W.E.K., Daren S. and Feldman H.R., 2010, “A Stone Oil Lamp with Seven Nozzles from the Late Second Temple Period First Century CE.” Liber Annuus 60, 377-391.

Rosenfeld A., Ilani S., Krumbein W.E.K., Feldman H.R., and Daren S., 2011a, “A Stone Oil Lamp with Seven Nozzles Carved with Jewish symbols from the Late Second Period.” The Bible and Interpretation.

Rosenfeld A., Pellegrino C., Feldman H.R., and Krumbein W.E.K., 2011b, “The Connection of the James Ossuary to Talpiot (Jesus Family Tomb) Ossuaries.” The Bible and Interpretation.

Zissu, B. and Y., Goren., 2011, “The Ossuary of Miriam Daughter of Yeshua Son of Caiaphas Priests [of] Ma’azia from Imri.” Israel Exploration Journal 61, 74-95.





Comments (1)


Dear Dr. Rosenfeld, Hi!!! Are you aware of the Israel Antiquities Authority's press release of August 4, 2009? It is entitled "Israel Antiquities Authority to register antiquities collections held by the general public in Israel." It states that there are at least 100,000 people in Israel who can be considered "collectors of antiquities." The law defines an antiquities collection as: "an assemblage of fifteen antiquities or more." Mr. Amir Ganor, in charge of the campaign on behalf of the IAA, said: "We call on members of the public that hold pieces of history to assist us in gathering the archaeological information, which is part of the whole puzzle that makes up our past. Without parts of the puzzle, it is difficult to know what the complete picture is exactly." So, the IAA appears to be interested in documenting and publishing possibly 1,500,000 unprovenanced artifacts or more. Sure some were looted, but many were found when Israelis were building roads and buildings. Israel is very similar to Egypt, wherever you dig you are likely to uncover an antiquity. Like the late Professor Joseph Naveh said on page 13 of Origins of the Alphabets, "The invention of the alphabet meant that everyone could learn to read and write with ease. This great innovation enabled even the poorest peasant to read, where before only priests and persons of high standing could benefit from the written word." It is particularly the unprovenanced inscribed objects that are important to us. As you know more than 90% are unprovenanced. From the unprovenanced Amarna Tablets, Dead Sea Scrolls, to the unprovenanced Aramaic Ostraca from Idumaea that Professor Naveh helped publish, the norm has been at least since 1847 for scholars to purchase and publish unprovenanced inscribed antiquities or at least publish them. With Much Gratitude and Admiration, Michael
#1 - Michael Welch - 12/04/2011 - 12:03






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