Examination of Authenticity: James Brother of Jesus Ossuary and Yehoash King of Yehuda Inscription
By Prof. Yuval Goren
Department of Archaeology and Ancient Eastern Cultures
and the Laboratory for Comparative Microarchaeology,
Tel Aviv University
I am honored to submit herein a summary of results from examinations conducted in the Laboratory for Comparative microarchaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University, on the James Ossuary and the inscription ascribed to Yehoash, King of Judah. The sampling was conducted in coordination with Dr. Avner Ayalon of the Geological Survey of Israel. The results of his work (using different research methods) are compatible with the substance documented herein. Dr. Ayalon will submit his results separately. The following detailed summary is not a scientific article and therefore the formal style of scientific papers was not used here. The purpose of this document is to give details of general results and conclusions reached, and is slated for future publication in the usual scientific format.
The two objects were examined as follows:
- Petrographic definition of the rock, indicating its geologic and possible geographic provenance.
- Microscopic examination of the inscribed area.
- Micromorphologic examination of the secondary materials (“patina” and other coating materials) overlaying various parts of the artifact.
- Minerologic definition of the secondary materials.
The following examination procedure was conducted for both objects:
- Surface study of the patina, inscription and other secondary materials using stereoscopic microscope at magnifications ranging between X8-X40, and high resolution photography of various details within the inscriptions and surrounding areas with a digital camera.
- At the same time, a tentative test of the hardness and density was carried out by scratching with wood (toothpick), steel (scalpel), and corundum.
- A sample of the rock was taken for petrographic thin section analysis.
- For the James ossuary: Micromorphologic thin section examination (after impregnation in the laboratory) of the soil deposited on the ossuary floor.
- Controlled sampling of the various secondary materials.
- Petrographic examination in thin sections of the secondary materials was made for identification of their mineralogy and texture.
- Examination of the secondary materials under an incident-light (metalographic) microscope (brightfield and darkfield) was made for the identification of metallic or other opaque components.
The James Ossuary
- The ossuary is made of foraminiferous Senonian chalk of the Mt. Scopus Group, which is widespread in Jerusalem and over large areas of the country. This is the rock type from which Second Temple period ossuaries were hewn.
- On the front (the side bearing the rosettes) and the lower back (the side of the inscription), signs of erosion in the form of small craters appear, probably as the result of water activity. It may be assumed that the ossuary stood with its front side facing the cave wall.
- The outer surface is covered almost entirely with a thin film of brown-ocher clay-like matter (personal impression from a microscopic examination, no mineralogical examination was conducted), presumably “rock varnish” caused by biological activity of bacteria or algae.
- On various areas of the front (including on the rosettes), the sides and the back, the varnish is covered by calcitic patina, forming scattered cauliflower-like patterns, featuring considerable growth of the calcite crystals (to sub-millimeter size). This indicates a process of slow and continuous crystallization. The patina is hard (scratched by scalpel) and adheres strongly to the rock surface.
- Only in the inscription area on this ossuary does an additional grayish coating material appear (henceforth, “inscription coating”). It was not found on any other ossuary examined by us in the Israel National Collections in the Rockefeller Museum storerooms. The inscription coating is very soft (can be easily removed with a toothpick), it is sometimes gritty but generally homogeneous and usually fills the low areas of the inscription and around it.
- Grooves and etches (signs of stonework) in the inscribed area are coated by rock varnish.
- The inscription, throughout its entire length is etched into the varnish and cuts through it.
- Petrographic examination of the inscription coating indicates that its composition is calcitic. The cryptocrystalline calcite that forms the inscription coating contains abundant microfossils of nanoplankton (coccoliths). The latter are abundant in marine-derived sedimentary rocks (such as chalk), but are nonexistent in terrain-derived sediments. This phenomenon is unique to the inscription coating and it was never observed in the other patina samples.
- The sediment inside the ossuary is brown rendzina soil, enriched by approximately 50% microscopic bone particles, most showing evidence of having been considerably heated (having higher interference colors and pleochroism). The reason for this phenomenon is yet undetermined.
- The ossuary is authentic, based on its typology and patination. The accumulation of rock varnish is considered a very lengthy process. It appears that the deposition of the patina was also considerably prolonged.
- The inscription was engraved (or at least, completely cleaned) in modern times.
- The inscription coating is not natural. It was made by grinding and dissolving chalk in hot water (possibly the powder resulting from the newly carved inscription), and spilling the paste onto the inscription and surrounding area, in order to blur the freshly engraved signs.
The Yehoash Inscription
- Past examinations carried out by Ilani, Rosenfeld and Dvorchek at the Geological Survey of Israel, the stone was identified as Cambrian sub-arkosic sandstone of southern Israel or Jordan. According to our petrographic examination however, the rock may be defined as low-grade metamorphic greywacke. The mineralogyis as follows: sericite as matrix, the inclusions are dominated by quartz and ore minerals (the latter giving the stone its black hue), with accessory plagioclase, epidote, zircon and calcite.
- Accordingly, the source of the stone should also be changed since this type is not native to Israel and the adjacent areas. Similar rock types outcrop east of the Troodos massif in Cyprus, near the north Syrian ophiolithic complexes, and beyond.
- The reverse side of the tablet is covered with white-creamy to light brown patina. It is hard (can be scratched only by corundum), microlaminated and strongly adheres to the stone, so much so that a small chisel was required to separate a sample of it. Petrographic examination showed that it is completely siliceous and devoid of any carbonates (calcite and similar). This patina composition is related to rock (due to the abundance of quartz), but is not likely to have deposited on a buried rock in the calcareous environs of the Jerusalem hills.
- The written surface and the edges of the stone, similar to certain areas on the back, are covered by brown-reddish to whitish material, which fills the letters, especially on the lower left part of the inscription (henceforth, inscription coating). It is soft and can be removed easily with a wooden toothpick.
- The written surface and the area at the edges contain lightly dispersed carbonized material sizing up to ½ mm. (in a few cases, up to 1mm). When examined under the metallographic microscope at X100 magnification, it reveals very scarce spheres of uncorroded metal (probably the gold mentioned by Ilani, Rosenfeld and Dvorchek). It is possible that in the micron scale the dispersion is larger.
- Microscopic examination of the inscription coating reveals that it contains two main components: powdered chalk containing fossilized foraminifera, and ferruginous, brown-red clay (with abundant iron oxides, its minerology was not defined by XRD analysis at this stage). This combination is definitely unnatural. It is not rendzina soil but an artificial mixture of the two independent components.
- Except for the carbonized material, the inscription coating does not contain any other constituent resulting from burnt vegetal material. There are neither any phytoliths nor “rhombus” (calcium-oxalate crystals from floral tissues altered into calcite). Therefore, it appears that the carbon is not an integral part of a sediment but an artificial addition to the inscription coating.
- When the inscription coating is removed from the letters by a wet cloth, signs of fresh cutting and polishing are exposed.
- The stone is exotic to the southern Levant. It may have been part of an architectural element chosen by mistake due to its physical resemblance to finely crystalline basalt. It should be noted that there are no parallels for the use of exotic stones in the assemblage of rock-cut inscriptions of the First Temple period. The reverse side and its border were cut in the distant past as deduced from the existing siliceous patina. Hence, the original shape of the rock was rectangular prior to the modern creation of the inscription.
- The letters (especially their lower parts) do not exhibit any considerable sign for surface erosion, as might be expected from an ancient inscription.
- The inscription coating has a different composition than the patina on the backside of the stone. It appears to be an artificial mixture of ferruginous clay, powdered chalk, carbonized matter and microscopic particles of metal (gold?).
- It appears that this mixture was first dissolved in hot water before the inscribed surface of the stone was immersed in the solution. Possibly, after drying, the stone was heated in an oven in order to solidify the inscription coating. The temperature was no higher than 4000C, since the carbon was not destroyed and the clay did not sinter.
- There is a significant similarity in the conception and method of production between the Yehoash inscription and the inscription on the James Ossuary.