A Dummies Guide to Koshering Forged Antiquities
This whole sad “Jesus wife ” papyrus affair reminds me of an incident in Ein Gedi a few years back. A high ranking official from the IAA where I had been employed, visited the on-going excavations there and the archaeologist, excitedly showed him an amulet with Jewish symbols found in-situ, earlier that day. The experienced excavator was thinking of calling a press conference to announce the find. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the official from the IAA showed him, despite the fact that it was found in-situ, it had been planted and was a modern day forgery. The question now becomes why? Well as I’ve said time and time again, ‘we’ve seen this movie before’ in that the forger will wait until after the forged artifact is shown in a press conference, with the archaeologist believing that as it was found in-situ, it was authentic, thus giving it his seal of approval. Sooner or later, identical amulets will appear on the dealers shelves or as with what happens with high end items, there are always buyers waiting in line to purchase these finds, bypassing the market. I, in fact, was once approached by an individual who asked me to ‘plant’/salt an ostraca in an excavation in which Yadin had excavated. That ‘2,000 year old’ zinc coffin lid found in Qumran, coated with modern day paint to prevent corrosion, is but another example in which items are salted into a dig.
I have this uneasy feeling that Professor King, may have been unwittingly duped into such a transaction and it would just be a matter of time before a few more similar fragments would turn up on the market, as we have seen with those Jordanian lead codices. We’re dealing with highly sophisticated forgers, which it would appear have assistance from academically trained scholars.
Perhaps no field is immune to forgery as when it comes to amber studies, in which amber is melted down and modern day insects are embedded in the new amber which is difficult to tell, unless one takes the item to an entomologist who can readily discern a modern fly from one in antiquity. One of the EU labs producing these fakes eventually hired a university trained entomologist whose task was to change or remove those morphological features in which one could easily determine if the insect was recently embedded or ancient, thus removing tell tale signs of forgery. It eventually ended up in the courts when a US university challenged their right to do such, and the lab producing these forged items replied, ‘it’s no ones business what we do’.
Anything, you see, can be made kosher if the right ‘expert’ is at work.