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It would seem that those of us working with inscriptions must now hold all unprovenenced inscriptions that have appeared between 1970 and 2005 as guilty until proven innocent. If any one wishes to publish such items, they must first prove authenticity. Preferably, there will be an established protocol of palaeographic, grammatical, and lab tests every inscription has to pass. Moreover, we must now avoid discussions of and contributions from unprovenenced inscriptions in our publications because we simply do not know if they are authentic and they encourage looting. This includes not only the inscriptions listed in the indictment, but any others, including the more than 1400 Aramaic ostraca from the Persian period.

Why were we so gullible? Probably because we were convinced by the argument of the patina. But now it has been shown how a patina can be faked. We should have been suspicious of all the biblical and historical allusions in many of the the inscriptions. No royal seal had been found before 1980. All of a sudden several appeared. Although thousands of diggers work in the field each summer (counting volunteers), only rarely are inscriptions found, and those with biblical and important historical allusions almost never appear. Why were so many suddenly being found by illicit diggers who usually dig at night when it is difficult to see, especially through the dirt that usually encrusts bullae and ostraca? Illicit diggers have no more insight than archaeologists. Were they really that much luckier?!

Most illicit digging occurs in tombs. Now and then a seal may be found in tombs, but almost never ostraca and bullae. The latter need a fire to preserve them and tombs are very seldom fired. Ostraca are not a tomb item. They almost always come from urban sites. How can illicit excavators, usually digging in tombs, uncover over 1400 ostraca and hundreds of bullae? The lowly potsherd is covered with dirt and illicit diggers seeking hot "money" items would give them nary a second glance. How did they discover all those ostraca while the thousands of legitimate excavators digging in urban sites come up high and dry?

Although all unprovenenced inscriptions should be re-examined, I would like to add an item about which I have special suspicions. Soon after our discovery of the Ba`alis (Ba`alyasha`) seal impression at Tall al-`Umayri in 1984, a seal "appeared" on the market that was an actual seal of Ba`alyasha`. I have always thought the timing was suspicious, but the script looked good, it was a type of stone typical of seals, and it was (cleverly?) chipped. I must now consider it a fake until a battery of lab tests we all accept establishes its authenticity.

Citation: Larry Herr, " Letter to the Editor," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited March 2005]. Online:


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