Saturday, September 05, 2009

Defense to Testify in James Ossuary Forgery Case

Time Magazine has an article this weekend on the continuation of the trial of Oded Golan and Robert Deutsch for forging the James Ossuary and other spectacular artifacts.  Matthew Kalman, the Jerusalem correspondent who has been the primary reporter on this case for the last couple of years, spends the better part of the article on a technical discussion on the issue of patina in the inscribed letters.  Here are a few portions of the report:

The director of the Israel Antiquities Authority will soon take the witness stand for the first time since he declared, in December 2004, that the ossuary and other items seized in a two-year investigation were the "tip of the iceberg" of an international conspiracy that placed countless fakes in collections and museums around the world. He promised more arrests. But no other fake items have been seized, no-one else has been arrested, and Judge Farkash has hinted strongly that the prosecution case is foundering.

Next week, defense attorneys will present evidence suggesting that scientists testifying for the prosecution have disproved their own findings against the ossuary. The scientific evidence against Golan is largely based on measurements of the oxygen isotopic composition (in technical terms, d18O — Delta 18 Oxygen) of the thin crust — or patina — covering the ossuary inscription....

The trouble with this kind evidence is, of course, that the formation of patina isn't yet explainable in science everyone can agree on. The patina on one letter could be the result of one particularly wet winter that happened to leave its evidence on the ossuary — but perhaps not in a stalagmite in a cave. Or vice versa. "The analogy between the formation of cave deposits and the formation of patina on archeological objects is imprecise and more work is needed," says Professor Aldo Shemesh, an isotope expert at the Weizmann Institute who was also called as a defense expert. In the end, it is a numbers game — figuring on averages of statistics over which all the experts disagree. Says Shemesh: "Scientific debates should be discussed and resolved in peer-reviewed literature and scientific conferences, not in court."

The full article is here.



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