Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Problem of Planted Epigraphs

Jim West has an interesting post this morning with a quote from archaeologist Joe Zias:
As one who has seen the profession, somewhat as an outsider (anthropologist) I can guarantee you that things get planted in sites, both here in Jerusalem and several sites along the Dead Sea.
That reminded me of something I just read in Avigad & Sass's Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals, regarding Seal no. 1206, which they take to be a forgery. Here is part of the catalogue entry:
Tel Qasile, chance find made in 1946 by a certain Dr. Hoff, who was one of a party led by archaeologist J. Kaplan... Reused limestone mosaic tessera of the Byzantine period [with an ancient Hebrew inscription] ...

It can only be guessed who made the seal and put it in the party's path, and why. In this light one of the two famous Hebrew inscriptions from Tel Qasile, or both, likewise chance finds made [on the surface] before the excavation, may have to be reexamined. (pp. 457-458)
The two famous Hebrew inscriptions are two ostraca first published in 1951. One of them is pictured here. The second one provides the only extra-Biblical mention of "gold of Ophir." (See the article here.)

I don't know whether these two ostraca are authentic or not, but they raise a question that only just occurred to me. For an artifact to have a provenance, must it be discovered in the ground? If surface finds are suspicious, then that will cast a shadow over a lot more material. I'd be happy to hear from archaeologists about this issue.

If, by the way, the "gold of Ophir" ostracon falls under suspicion, then that would disqualify all the Hebrew epigraphical references that I can think of with the form METAL + LOCATION. The expression "silver of Tarshish" (כסף תרשׁשׁ) occurs in one of the Moussaieff Ostraca, and the phrase "copper of Edom" (נחשׁת אדם) occurs in the Jehoash tablet.

The Tel Qasile ostracon, of course, is not part of the "Golan team" suspected forgeries.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Maisler, B. 1951. "Two Hebrew Ostraca from Tell Qasile." Journal of Near Eastern Studies 10: 265–67.


elf said...

This reminds me of a story I heard from some archaeology students who spent many hours carefully unearthing what turned out to be a plastic hummus container. They may have found it in situ, but it was still a hummus container.

EMC said...

Obviously from the Plastic IIb period!