Artifact with name of King Ahasuerus’ father is not authentic, IAA says

Israel Antiquities Authority walks back announcement on discovery of shard purportedly 2,500 years old bearing name of Persian king mentioned in the Book of Esther.

By Pesach Benson, TPS

Following an announcement by the Israel Antiquities Authority on Wednesday of the discovery of a pottery shard with the inscription of the name “Darius the Great,” the Authority has now clarified that the shard was not authentic.

According to the Authority, the shard was made by an expert on Aramaic inscriptions who used the piece to teach students about the way shards were inscribed at the time.

The researcher, who was not named, inadvertently left the shard at the Tel Lachish National Park. It was found by two friends hiking in the park in 2022.

The researcher contacted the Authority after hearing about the announcement. Questioned by the Authority, the researcher said the shard was left at the park unintentionally and without malice.

Wednesday’s announcement made headlines in Israel, coming days before the Purim holiday.

The Aramaic inscription said, “Year 24 of Darius,” dating it to 498 BCE. The short text then recorded the name of the Persian king Darius the Great (Darius I), the father of Ahasuerus. The Biblical Ahasuerus was King of Persia and Medea as described in the Book of Esther, which is read annually during the Jewish holiday of Purim.

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This year, Purim falls on March 6.

The shard was touted as the first discovery of an inscription bearing Darius the Great’s name anywhere in the Land of Israel.

“The IAA takes full responsibility for the unfortunate event” Prof. Gideon Avni, the IAA’s chief scientist explained.

“The shard was examined by Dr. Haggai Misgav, a leading researcher on ancient Aramaic script and Sa’ar Ganor, an archaeologist studying the site of Tell Lachish and its region. However, as it turns out, the find does not bear an ancient inscription. As an institution that strives for the scientific truth, we are committed to correcting the mistake that was made and making it known to the public,” Prof. Avni said.

“In terms of ethical and scientific practices, we see this as a very severe occurrence. Leaving the newly inscribed shard on the site was careless, and led to the mistake done by the researchers and distorted the scientific truth. Such cases in archaeological research are very few in number.”

“The event illustrates the dangers of adding modern scripts on ancient artifacts – a phenomenon which troubles the entire scientific community for many years. On top of the paleographic examination of the shard by an experienced epigraphist, the shard was examined in various laboratories and found to be ancient. This once again proves that only finds discovered in controlled archaeological excavations should be considered 100 percent authentic. All other finds should raise questions regarding their authenticity.”

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The Antiquities Authority said it would reexamine its procedures and policies with all foreign expeditions working in the country.