Hundreds of strange archaeological discoveries have been made in modern history. However, many archaeological discoveries also offer a tempting insight into unsolved mysteries, which continue to fascinate people around the world. Check out these 10 controversial archaeological discoveries and find out why each one stimulates debate between scientists, historians, or the general public.
1. James Ossuary: Archaeological Evidence of Jesus of Nazareth?
The James ossuary is a 2,000-year old chalk box which was used for containing dead bones. Carved into one side of the box there is an Aramaic inscription that reads, “Ya’akov bar-Yosef akhui diYeshua” (English translation: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”). The inscription is very significant for adherents of Christianity because, if genuine, it might provide archaeological evidence of Jesus of Nazareth.
For a 90-year period, from 20 B.C. to A.D. 70, the Jewish burial custom was to place the body in a cave for a year or so and then retrieve the bones and put them in a bone box—ossuary—that could then be placed in a niche in the family tomb.
Several hundred such boxes from that era have been found, 215 of which have inscriptions. Only two boxes mention a brother.
The box was originally tested in Israel by scientists at the Geological Survey Group, who judged it to be about 2,000 years old. But the inscription divides the believers and the non-believers due to the Israeli Antiquities Authority, which determined in 2003 that the inscriptions were forged at a much later date. Also, statistical analyses of ancient names suggest that in contemporary Jerusalem, there would be an average of 1.71 people named Ya’akov (James) with a father Yosef (Joseph) and a brother named Yeshua (Jesus).
According to the James ossuary’s owner, an Israeli engineer and antiquities collector named Oded Golan, the box came from the Silwan area in the Kidron Valley, southeast of the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem. Golan purchased the artifact from a Jerusalem-based dealer in the 1970s.
In December 2004, the James ossuary’s owner was charged with 44 counts of forgery, fraud, and deception, including forgery of the Ossuary inscription. In 2012, Golan was acquitted of the forgery charges but convicted of illegal trading in antiquities. He was also fined 30,000 shekels and sentenced to one month in jail for minor non-forgery charges related to the trial. The judge said that this acquittal “does not mean that the inscription on the ossuary is authentic or that it was written 2,000 years ago.”