Friday, March 03, 2023

The Darius ostracon was a modern showpiece?

OOPS: Unfounded: Ancient Darius inscription shard isn’t authentic – Antiquities Authority. Officials backtrack on claim of find linked to Purim king’s father, say fragment was created by an expert showing inscription techniques to students, accidentally left at dig site (Times of Israel).
However, on Friday, the IAA said that following the publication of the find they were approached by an expert who participated in an excavation expedition last August, who informed the authority that she had created the inscription “while demonstrating to a group of students the manner in which sherds were inscribed in ancient times.”

“She then left the sherd on the site, which led to the erroneous identification. She was questioned and said this was done unintentionally and without malice,” the statement said.

If we assume this update is correct – and I don't know what's real anymore – the key takeaway is this. When the original story broke, we were assured of the following:
But a few weeks later, after the IAA had put the potsherd through multiple scans and laboratory tests, including at the Dead Sea Scrolls Lab, Ganor called Levy and told him the potsherd was believed to be authentic.
What are all those scans and laboratory tests worth if they can't even identify a modern pedagogical showpiece that wasn't intended to fool anyone? This is a major hit to their credibility.

I said that this find seemed awfully lucky and that my instinct was that the object was a modern plant. Well, it wasn't planted deliberately. Otherwise my instinct was right.

But I trusted the authentication. Again, assuming this revised story bears up, from now on I am trusting my instincts.

Have a nice weekend.

UPDATE (4 March): Ruth Schuster provides additional details in an Haaretz article: Israel Antiquities Authority: ‘Ancient’ Darius Inscription Deemed Inauthentic in Mix-up. A world expert on Aramaic scripts on a foreign expedition in Tel Lachish had written on the shard of pottery as a demonstration to students illustrating how pottery was inscribed in ancient times.

Following the announcement, a world expert on Aramaic scripts who was participating in a foreign expedition to Lachish last August contacted the IAA and explained that she had demonstrated how sherds were inscribed in ancient times to students by scratching on an existing sherd at the site. She then left the ancient sherd with the modern addition on the site, the IAA stated.

That is proper practice in the sense that removing any artifact from an archaeological site in Israel is prohibited, but in this case its subsequent discovery four months later led to confusion. “She was questioned and said this was done unintentionally and without malice,” the IAA said.

The potsherd itself was ancient, but the inscription was scratched onto it last year. I guess that is why it passed all the scans and tests as authentic.

In this case the object was made with no intent to deceive. But it raises the question, how many other unprovenanced, but supposedly-genuine, inscribed (incised) ostraca are modern forgeries made in exactly the same way?

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