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Monday, June 23, 2003

"It's on official 'Dukes of Hazzard' stationery."

So went the punchline to the old Bloom County storyline relating to the unmasking of the "Elvis Diaries" as a fraud.

This was Berkeley Breathed's rather clever take on the fact there were similar clues which should have tipped off those enthused about the Hitler Diaries. It makes you think some people just want to be fooled:

[The forger] Kujau's customers were more eager to own a piece of the Nazi past than they were to verify the authenticity of their purchases, so Kujau wasn't particularly cautious about accuracy. The diaries themselves were full of flaws:

--The books were of post-war manufacture, and contained threads that were not made before the 1950s.

--The plastic monogram on the front of one diary read ``FH'' rather than ``AH.''

--The texts of the diaries contained historical inaccuracies and anachronisms.

--The ink used was chemically modern, and tests showed that it was recently applied to the paper.

The success of the fraud had less to do with the technical sophistication of the forgery than the combined and contagious gullibility of many people.

Christianity Today reports that something similar, although more technically adept, may have happened in the case of the James Ossuary:

The IAA assigned one team to reexamine the geology of the ossuary. A second team looked at the epigraphy of the inscription, the letterforms, grammar, and syntax.

"This was not a matter of competing experts," says archaeologist and writer Neil Asher Silberman. Silberman is coauthoring an article on the ossuary for Archaeology magazine with Yuval Goren, a geologist on the IAA investigative team. Noting that Shanks had obtained what amounted to a certificate of authenticity from the Israel Geological Survey before revealing the ossuary last year, Silberman says the IAA did a much more rigorous analysis.

Silberman says the IAA team found the same patina described by earlier investigators. This is a calcite buildup comparable to the mineral deposits on a tea kettle over time. They also found a "rock varnish," another natural buildup of algae and bacteria.

But inside the incised letters was a third type of patina. "They found microfossils that appear naturally within chalk stone," he said. "That indicated someone had taken chalk and powdered it up, fossils and all, and put it over the letters to make it seem that it was ancient."

Silberman says geologists can also determine the temperature at which crystallization takes place. The patina on the other surfaces conformed to what would be expected for the cool groundwaters of Jerusalem. "But within the letters it seemed as if it was done with heated water."

The other IAA team also came up with an explanation for the inscription, which had fooled some of the world's leading epigraphers, with one part in a formal script and the second part in a more informal cursive script. "You wouldn't expect a forger to use two different, authentic first century handwriting styles," said Silberman. "That was always a puzzle," especially since the physical examination showed it had been carved at the same time.

The scientists suggest that each word in the inscription, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," exists on other ossuaries that have been catalogued. It would have been simple for someone using image software to put them together and carve them into the ossuary.

It's not looking good for the owner of the ossuary, either:

...Duke University archaeologist Eric Meyers, a past president of the American Schools of Oriental Research, notes that Golan is under police investigation. "They found labeled boxes of dirt from every region of the country that was used to make and forge patina. I think he's a central figure here."

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