Sunday, October 05, 2008

Jehoash Inscription: Geologists Think Authentic

Five years ago, a big stir was created with the announcement of the existence of the Jehoash Inscription.  The tablet was so exciting because it appeared to come from the Jerusalem temple, dating to approximately 800 B.C., and paralleling 2 Kings 12:12.

The inscription, however, had problems.  The chief one was that it surfaced in the hands of an antiquities collector, not in a controlled archaeological dig.  That by itself is enough for some to deny the authenticity of the artifact, even though many demonstrably authentic objects were recovered illegally.

Another problem was the stone itself and the patina (sheen produced by age).  Though the first geologists to study the inscription said it was ancient, the Israel Antiquities Authority issued a report concluding that the inscription was a modern forgery.  60 Minutes aired a horrible report (regardless of conclusion, the report was dishonest) which included an interview with a man claimed to have created the inscription.

To me, the most interesting part of all of this has been the way one side has acted on the matter. And I don’t mean the 60 Minutes crew (who merit only the lowest of expectations anyway).  There are some professionals who have acted as if they have a lot to lose if this inscription is authentic.  On the other hand, those who think the inscription may be ancient appear to me to desire simply that the proper studies be done.  Some professionals apparently think that a few tests are sufficient, after which all discussion must be silenced and all tests denied.

Which means their dander is up after another study was published this summer in the Journal of Archaeological Science.  The conclusion of the five geologists who wrote the article is that the inscription is likely ancient.  The pdf is available for a fee, but the abstract is online:

A gray, fine-grained arkosic sandstone tablet bearing an inscription in ancient Hebrew from the First Temple Period contains a rich assemblage of particles accumulated in the covering patina that includes calcite, dolomite, quartz and feldspar grains, iron oxides, carbon ash particles, microorganisms, and gold globules (1–4 μm in diameter). There are two types of patina present: thin layers of a black to orange-brown, iron oxide-rich patina, a product of micro-biogenetical activity, as well as a light beige patina mainly composed of carbonates, quartz and feldspar grains. The patina covers the rock surfaces and inscription grooves post-dating the incised inscription as well as a fissure that runs across the stone and several of the engraved letters. Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) analyses of the carbon particles in the patina yields a calibrated radiocarbon age of 2340–2150 Cal BP and a conventional radiocarbon age of 2250 ± 40 years BP. The presence of microcolonial fungi and associated pitting indicates slow growth over many years. The occurrence of pure gold globules is evidence of melting (above 1000 °C) indicates a thermal event. This study supports the antiquity of the patina, which in turn, strengthens the contention that the inscription is authentic.

Let the studies continue!  When there is a “reasonable doubt” about authenticity, it is anti-scientific and anti-academic to try to prevent further investigation.

(Note: the trial against the alleged forgers is going on three years and running, which suggests, to me at least, that the evidence is not as iron-clad as the prosecutors and their fans have insisted.)

Labels:

4 Comments:

  • Of course, Jim West has already noted how silly it is to argue about an artifact that Goren has already "proved" to be inauthentic. What more do you need? Who cares if other experts say otherwise? To question Goren makes you insane!

    Blake Reas

    By OpenID gatesofsplendor, at Sun Oct 05, 07:21:00 PM  

  • Of course, that was tongue in cheek.

    By OpenID gatesofsplendor, at Sun Oct 05, 07:22:00 PM  

  • I guess with such an unprovenanced artifact the question is where does the burden of proof lie. I'd say that when accepting it a genuine adds substantially to the evidence we have one has to be careful, and "might be genuine" is not enough.

    There is also the issue of accepting such items leading to greater chance for forgers and looters to profit, and therefore greater danger that in future forged and looted items will be around...

    So, I would be cautious of using this tablet to illustrate a course for example - except a session on the problems of interpretation of such items ;)

    By Blogger Tim, at Sun Oct 05, 09:28:00 PM  

  • The point still stands, that we should continue to debate and not leave any question unanswered. If it is a forgery then we should forget it. If there is doubt whether it is a forgery we had better make sure to the best of our abilities.

    Accepting something uncritically, or rejecting something uncritically are both wrong.

    By OpenID gatesofsplendor, at Sun Oct 05, 09:41:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home