Preliminary Observations for an Ossuaries Report of the Talpiot Tomb
(Submitted to Miki Saban of the Israel Antiquities Authority)
By Stephen Pfann and Steven Cox
University of the Holy Land
On Thursday, May 3, 2007, four members of the University of the Holy Land staff visited the Israel Antiquities Authority storage facility at Beth Shemesh in order to study four inscribed ossuaries from the Talpiot Tomb. The UHL staff members present were: Dr. Stephen Pfann (epigrapher), Steven Cox (forensic scientist), Stephen Pfann, Jr. (CGI/digital reconstruction) and Glenn Zehr.
Four of the ossuaries were on the table when we arrived. Under the supervision of IAA warehouse supervisor, Miki Saban, his assistant opened the lids of ossuaries 80.500 (Mariame kai Mara) and 80.503 (Yeshua (?) bar Yehosef). The containers of samples that had been gathered by Steven Cox during the filming a year ago, and which we had left in the ossuaries, were no longer in the ossuaries. (Also, the quantities of soil, pulverized bone material and seeds that were in ossuary 80.500, and are visible in the film, are now missing.)
First we examined ossuary CJO 701 (80.500) which bears the inscription MARIAME KAI MARA, “Mariame and Mara”.
1. CJO 701 (80.500) MARIAME KAI MARA
1.1 Surface condition and measurements.
We measured the ossuary and rechecked the earlier rubbing that Dr. Pfann had made more than two years ago, when the ossuary was still in the IAA storage warehouse in Romema. While examining the inscription, we found noticeable black ink spots on the surface of the ossuary. These spots were made since the ossuary was last photographed in February. Apparently, an ink pen had been carelessly used as a pointer, either during the short time the ossuary was in New York, or since then, with the resulting marks on the ossuary’s surface.
We examined all parts of the inscription with optivisors and a boom-supported stereomicroscope. For the purpose of this report, the “first part” of the inscription refers to the strokes making up the word “MARIAME,” and the “second part” of the inscription refers to the strokes constituting the words “KAI MARA.”
1.2.1 General characteristics of incisions.
The incisions in the chalk surface were distinguished by width, depth, the steepness of the sides of the trough and the form of the bottom. All strokes that make up the letters in the inscription share some similarities, which would suggest that a similar tool, with a bifurcated tip, was used throughout. A double groove appears in strokes that slope to the right, while strokes that are vertical or slope leftward have a “V”-shaped trough. From the discernable angle of execution of the various strokes, it is apparent that both parts of the inscription were made by right-handed writers. However, the similarities end there.
1.2.2 Unique characteristics of incisions.
Most of the strokes that make up the name MARIAME are comparatively shallow compared with those of the second part of the inscription. According to preliminary measurements, the width of the points of the instruments used to inscribe the first and the second parts of the inscriptions is different. Comparing similar strokes from all parts of the inscription, the strokes from the first part were consistently 80% to 90% narrower than those of the remainder of the inscription, whether the instrument was fully depressed or not. Troughs at the bottoms of the strokes were also distinguishable between the two parts. These measurements made it apparent that similar but clearly distinct tools had been used in the writing of the first and the last parts of the inscription. The drooping line that rides below the inscription is consistent with the strokes made by the second instrument.
1.2.3 “Stroke” before Mara.
The mysterious “stroke” that stands before MARA has a gently rounded trough, similar to other inadvertent marks on the ossuary’s surface. The shape of this trough eliminates it as having been made by either tool utilized for the inscription, since the trough is neither double-grooved or “V”-shaped.
1.2.4 UV light test.
There was no apparent distinction between florescence of the incisions of the inscription and other outer surfaces on the ossuary (except where modern chips and abrasions were apparent).
The other ossuaries will be dealt with in a future communication.