Dr. Harrell, in an interview this week, said that after examining the available scientific data, he is certain that the IAA's evaluation was flawed.
"Basically what I'm saying is that the scientific evidence is inconclusive. But that is substantial because the IAA, in their report, claim the inscription is a forgery - no ifs, ands, or buts about it."
Dr. Harrell, who has taught at UT for 25 years, said none of the data used in the IAA's report can justify the agency's outright rejection of the box's authenticity.
"It may be that they're ultimately right in their conclusion, but if so it would be for the wrong reasons," Dr. Harrell said. "I haven't made my mind up yet as to whether I think it's authentic or not, but the balance is in favor of authenticity."
He said it is obvious that somebody cleaned the ossuary, possibly with a metallic pad, since it was purchased more than 30 years ago by its current owner, Ogded Golan, an Israeli antiquities dealer who reportedly tried to sell the ossuary for $2 million.
"Whenever inscribed objects are found, perhaps in illicit excavations, they're cleaned up and made presentable," Dr. Harrell said. "An archaeologist would never do that, but an antiquities dealer would."
On scientific standards alone, the IAA report was amateurish, Dr. Harrell said.
"It was a rush job, it was not well written, there were no reasons given for conclusions, no mention of dissenting views," he said. "It was just badly done."
Perhaps, he said, the Israeli government was trying to make an example of Mr. Golan to discourage people from selling archaeological treasures - even though Mr. Golan's purchase was legal at the time.
Dr. Harrell said he thinks Israeli authorities were unprepared for a serious scientific study of the ossuary.
"What I think happened is that they threw this committee together very quickly. It's like a road accident: The first people on the scene are not always the best to help. That's exactly what happened. I think there will be another, better-qualified committee to study it and issue a new report."
As for his argument about the cleaning of the inscription, I think it has been adequately answered by Stephen Carlson: "what reasonable collector permits his mother to ruin his collection?"
The article also has a nice close-up of the name "James" ("Jacob") in the inscription.