Scandals in Biblical Archaeology

There have been a great many archaeological and scientific discovers associated with the Bible, biblical lands, and the people involved. These discoveries have helped us confirm various historical elements of the Bible and also to bring the Bible to like for many. Believers all over the world devour news of new discoveries and new artifacts. This eagerness, both on the part of onlookers and scientist as well, creates the potential for mistakes. In some cases the mistakes are honest, people coming to the wrong conclusion or stating something as fact before all of the evidence is in. In other cases, the mistakes are intentional, done with the sole purpose to deceive. In some cases it is just to promote a certain ideology or to discredit another. In most of these instances the motivation is pure and simply, greed.

In recent years there have been a number of scandals involving biblical artifacts as well as scientific findings relating to the Bible, or to biblical stories. Such instances are not new, but with modern technology forgeries are much more convincing and false information can travel at an amazing speed. I thought it would be interesting to look at just a few of these incidents as well as the people and artifacts involved. Amazingly, some of these fooled the scientific and scholarly community for decades. 

Dead Sea Scrolls Exposed as Fake 

The Dead Sea Scrolls are among the most important archaeological discoveries in history. They have given us invaluable insight into biblical times and the people and cultures who inhabited the biblical lands. With the importance, both historically and scientifically of the scrolls, it has made them quite valuable. As with anything of great value, certainly something from antiquity, there is the constant danger of fraudulent replicas. 

In March of 2020 the Museum of the Bile announced that its collection of 16 fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls were all modern day forgeries. Despite being examined by biblical scholars, scientist and academics, the forgeries were so well done, they  were passed on as authentic for years. The museum was concerned with the authenticity of the artifacts and called in a team of independent scientists to evaluate the fragments. The bad news was soon to follow, the museum had been the victim of fraud. 

The fragments purchased by the museum were a portion of scroll fragments that came on the market in the 2000's and are referred to as the 'post 2002 scrolls'. All of these scrolls are not considered to almost certainly be frauds. This would mean that not only the Museum of the Bible, but a number of other private collectors fell victim to the scam. - It must be noted this revelation does not put the original Dead Sea Scrolls authenticity in doubt. 

70 Lead Codices

This discovery, made in eastern Jordan, originally claimed to be possibly the oldest Christian writing ever discovered and may record the last days of Jesus, and the resurrection. The discovery was made in 2006. Sounding very much like the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the codices were found in a remote cave. In all there were 70 lead codices which some believe come from the first century A.D.


70 Lead codices

The codices are each approximately the size of a credit card and are wire bound together. The pages contain writing, diagrams and maps which had experts excited at the prospect of deciphering their meaning. The text, some of which is in code, appears to tell about the life of Jesus, His last days on earth, His crucifixion as well as the resurrection. If found to be authentic this would be the oldest Christian writing ever found.

 The small size of the codices indicate they were intended for personal use/study and not for use in teaching. If the writings are as old as some claim, they were made shortly after the death of Jesus and most probably before the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. Christians fled to the caves of eastern Jordan, where the codices were found, when the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

 One of the codices shows a cross and what appears to be a depiction of Jesus' tomb and the ancient city of Jerusalem in the background. Some of the codices were sealed which led to speculation they were associated with the sealed book referred to in the Book of Revelation which was shown only to the Messiah. Others warned not to become excited and urged caution. Indeed, some scholars have raised serious questions concerning the codices with some going as far as calling them outright fakes. They claim the artwork and images are inaccurate for the time and were copied from other sources, indicating the codices are yet another attempt to deceive collectors, and the world.

There have been remarkable claims made about the codices and what some call the secret code contained within. One scholar who says he has viewed the codices and is working on deciphering them, claims there have been attempts made on his life in order to halt his work. The majority of experts now seem convinced the codices are fakes and the product of a modern-day forger, and some have even gone as far to say the forger was a bit lazy in where he copied the material from. Authentic or fraud, there have been no translations of the codices made public. As of 2017 the codices are considered to be fake by both the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) as well as the Jordanian Archaeological Department.

 Reiner Protsch - Neanderthal Hoax 

At the University of Frankfurt professor Reiner Protsch apparently falsified reports of the age of certain skulls given to him to examine. His motives may never be fully known, but it seems he was attempting to claim certain artifacts were far older than they were. This was perhaps in support of evolutionist and his own beliefs or something else entirely. Protsch apparently falsified information throughout the 1980's and 1990's. In one instance Protsch claimed a skull was discovered in Switzerland, which is a rarity. It was later discovered the skull was found in France, in which case it was not so rare. Unfortunately, this was one of Protsch's more minor offences.


"History of Humans Unravels As Scholar Exposed As Fraud"

While the total extent of Protsch's deception may never be fully known, three examples of his scandalous activity show to just what extent his deception extended. One skull, reportedly a Neanderthal skull was dated by Protsch as being 36,000 years old. It was later proved to be 7,500 years old. Another skull, given the title of "Binschof-Speyer Woman" was said to be 21,300 years old, a significant find. In reality the skull was only 3,900 years old. The final example was the "Paderborn-Sande Man" which Protsch said was 27,400 years old. Upon further investigation it was found the skull actually belonged to a man who had died in the 1700's.

Professor Thomas Terberger of the University of Greifswald spoke about the false claims presented by Protsch. "Anthropology is going to have to completely revise its picture of modern man between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago. Professor Protsch's work appeared to prove that anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals had co-existed, and perhaps even had children together. This now appears to be rubbish."

Rony Wyatt - Archaeologist -or- Something Less? 

All archeologist are not created equally, and all who claim to be an archeologist are not. Ron Wyatt was an arm-chair archeologist who made a number of remarkable claims of discovery in regards to Biblical items. By profession Wyatt was a nurse anesthetist who took up an interest in archeology in the late 1970's. Over the next twenty years Wyatt made trips to the middle east and claimed to make a wide range of archeological discoveries associated with Biblical events and peoples. 

When Wyatt first announced some of his reported findings he became something a cult hero with Christian fundamentalist. His discoveries were providing hard physical evidence of nearly everything written in the Bible, or so it seemed. Some of Wyatt's discoveries were of moderate importance, but for the most part Wyatt discovered, or claimed to discover, large important sites. These include Noah's Ark, anchor stones from Noah's ark as well as the gravestones for Noah and his wife along with their post-flood home. Wyatt also claimed to find the true location of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Tower of Babel and even worked out how the Egyptians constructed the pyramids. But his claims did not stop there.

Wyatt also found where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and even discovered chariot wheels from the Egyptian army on the floor of the Red Sea. Wyatt was also able to discover the location of Mount Sinai, the rock at Horeb which Moses struck to obtain water and he was able to find the crucifixion site of Jesus. He also reported the discovery of the lost Ark of the Covenant, complete with the original ten commandments and then went on to find the blood of Jesus at the crucifixion site. By testing the blood Wyatt was able to determine Jesus was born from a virgin. A remarkable career for an amateur archeologist.

 In truth any one of these discoveries would be the high-point and crowning achievement in the career of any archeologist. It is therefore hard to comprehend just how an amateur who did not have any credentials which would allow him to oversee an archeological dig in Israel could make such significant discoveries. It becomes even harder to understand when you consider the lack of physical evidence. It seems at nearly ever discovery Wyatt met with some type of misfortune. On one occasion the batteries died on his camera, preventing him from obtaining photographic evidence. On another site Wyatt's evidence was confiscated by government officials, preventing him from displaying his proof. Wyatt's work, and discoveries have never been published in any scholarly publication and were consistently refuted by the archeological community.

While Wyatt's reports of discoveries earned him temporary favor and even celebrity status with many Christian fundamentalist, his work has since been almost unanimously rejected by the Christian community as well as the IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority) who said Wyatt's claims are the kind of trash found in tabloids. The IAA also points out Wyatt has never carried out a legally licensed excavation in either Israel or Jerusalem. While Wyatt's claims can make for interesting reading, they offer no real proof of the historical accuracy of the Bible and in fact damage the credibility and efforts of those attempting to do serious work in these areas.

The Piltdown Man - The Greatest Scientific Hoax in History 

In 1912 a man named Charles Dawson claimed to have found portions of a human skull in a small gravel pit at Piltdown. The gravel pit is located in East Sussex, England and this discovery would touch off a scientific scandal which would not be fully disclosed for over forty years. His claims of discovery would fool scientist, writers, and confound even his most animate skeptics for decades. NOVA called it "The Boldest Hoax" when they produced a documentary on the subject, going on to say it was the greatest scientific hoodwinking of all time. The only thing more confusing than how Dawson managed to fool so many scholars, is the length of time it took to expose the fraud. 

Piltdown Man Meeting

The discovery was of a skull complete with jawbone. When the skull pieces were assembled it was proclaimed as the great missing link in the evolutionary chain. It was thought someone had finally found the proof man evolved from apes. It was also thought the human brain was smaller in early man. The brain cavity of the Piltdown skull was smaller than modern man and the jaw bone matched that of an ape. Even teeth were found which seemed to confirm the skull and jawbone were part of something science had never seen before. The skull had been broken into several small pieces and was re-assembled by Arthur Woodward. Woodward was the keeper of the geological department at the British Museum and he claimed the smaller size of the skull showed it came from early man and the jawbone, with the exception of two human teeth, perfectly matched the jawbone of an ape. Despite the claims of Woodward, many critics felt the claims were in error. One source of criticism was the Royal College of Surgeons, which assembled duplicate skull pieces and produced a completely different model. To prove his theory and Dawson's discovery were genuine, Woodward needed more proof if he were to silence his critics.

In 1913 Dawson, Woodward and a Jesuit priest named Teilhard began searching for additional artifacts. Amazingly, they were able to find additional teeth that Woodward expected to end any debate regarding his theory and reconstruction of the skull. Surprisingly to Woodward, Professor Arthur Keith disputed the new findings claiming the teeth did not properly match the jawbone and original teeth. Keith presented his findings at a meeting of the Royal Society. After hearing the evidence, the members accused Keith of having a rabid ambition and thus his disagreement with Woodward. It was in fact a case of Keith attempting to fight the establishment which desperately wanted the discovery to be authentic, evidence be damned.


Woodward continued to have a number of critics, even as the scholarly mainstream touted the find as authentic. Before the entire scam fell apart, more than 250 scholarly papers were written based on the Piltdown skull and jawbone. Some scholars based their entire careers on the Piltdown Man discovery. The support for the authenticity of the find was bolstered even further when a second skull was discovered, amazingly this skull was also found by Dawson. Woodward did not, however, present this second find until five months after Dawson's death in 1916.

With the discovery of a second skull so closely matching the first the critics had to fall silent. To this point critics had claimed the skull and jawbone did not belong together, that they had simply been found together by chance. The chance of an ape jawbone being found with a human skull would be rare, for it to happen twice in such a limited area was considered mathematically impossible. To this point the critics had been claiming Woodward's interpretation of the findings were in error, they were not yet claiming the find was a complete hoax.

The deception continued until 1953 when the scandal finally began to unravel. While most critics had been silenced, they secretly remained convinced the find was a mistake, and some now even began considering the possibility of the find being a deliberate hoax. Investigations launched in 1953 found the fossil was actually a composite of three distinct species. The skull was that of a modern man, the jawbone had belonged to an orangutan and the teeth came from a chimpanzee. It was also found the bones had been aged with a mixture of a solution of iron and chromic acid. One of the primary reasons the fraud was exposed were file marks found on the teeth. Apparently, the teeth had been filed down in order to make them compatible with the jawbone.


Interesting Side Note: Some scholars believe the true culprit is neither Dawson nor Woodard. Some believe the true mastermind behind the hoax was Sir Author Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels. Doyle lived only a short distance from where the artifacts were found and he had a grudge against the scientific community, giving him both motive and opportunity. (Doyle had been criticized by the scientific community for his spiritualist research.) If in fact Doyle was behind the hoax it may have well been one of his greatest mysteries, one which would not be solved for more than forty years.


A further investigation of other artifacts provided by Dawson determined at least 38 different samples were fakes. Some of the items were teeth which it was found had the same type of file markings as the teeth in the Piltdown fraud. Dawson had also exchanged a collection of flints with another collector. These were later found to have been aged with chemicals, again somewhat similar to the process used with the Piltdown artifacts. With this evidence it seemed obvious Dawson was the culprit behind this fraud, but many people believe if he was behind the scam, he was not working alone.

 It does seem strange Dawson, with a somewhat spotted past, could convince a scholar of such an astounding discovery. The blame seems to rest mostly on the shoulders of Dawson and Woodward. It appears Woodward was either aware of the hoax, or was so blinded by his ambition and desire to be a part of a significant find he ignored the evidence and pushed forward. Unfortunately, the action of these men damaged the reputation and work of other honest hard-working scholars. Even today, 100 years after the original discover was made, some critics of evolution use the Piltdown Man fraud as a warning against accepting the findings of scholars. They would have you believe scholars will modify their findings and deceive the general public in order to advance their own personal beliefs. It was certainly true in this case, but it is unfair to say the scholarly community as a whole is dishonest. Of course, when working with the unknown and with limited evidence, a person's work will always be subjected to second guessing and criticism.

 It should be noted that in the early twentieth century there was a strong sense of competition between many scholars based on nationality, gender and even race. In the case of the Piltdown Man there had been several discoveries made on mainland Europe which were considered significant. It was therefore very important to some to have a discovery of equal or greater importance to be made in England. The majority of British scientist claimed the Piltdown man finding to be the "Earliest Englishman". Their eagerness to be first, to have something no one else had, and to make England first, blinded them to the reality of the situation. It turns out to have been nothing more than a lie meant to advance the beliefs and ambitions of a hand-full of dishonest men.

Did you enjoy this article? Follow this Blog to get new posts sent to you.

Through the Ages

  Geologic Time 4.6 Million B.C. -to- 2.6 Million B.C. Stone Age Palaeolithic 2.6 Million B.C. -to- 10,000 B.C. Mesolithic 10,000 B.C. -to- ...