Although it is impossible to prove that this particular tomb was related to Jesus of Nazareth, what made the tomb remarkable was not only the grouping of the names, but the fact that these ossuaries came from a documented and controlled archaeological context. The tomb and its remains could be scientifically studied. Perhaps there was more to learn from a careful reexamination of all the evidence related to the tomb or maybe even from a further investigation of the site itself. After all, Joseph Gath, the original excavator, was dead, and the official report on the tomb had not yet been published.
The media had reported, however, that an apartment building had been built over the site of the tomb shortly after its excavation in 1980, obliterating the site and foreclosing any possibility of further direct investigation. Until the official report on the tomb was published, there seemed to be little more to learn.
I had not the slightest inkling back in 1996 that this Talpiot tomb would become part of my own firsthand investigation in future years, nor how it might relate to my research on the Jesus dynasty. Shimon Gibson and I had not even met. Nearly a decade later, in early 2004, I learned that Gibson had assisted Gath in the excavation of this 1980 tomb and had done the official drawings for publication. Time and time again Shimon Gibson turns up as the right man at the right time, fortuitously linking discoveries that one would not suspect to be linked at all.
Ray Bruce and his crew had been told that the ossuaries were "empty" of bones, indicating that the tomb had likely been robbed at an earlier time and the bones lost or scattered. We now know that this was not the case. According to the official report on the Talpiot tomb published in 1996 by Amos Kloner, these ossuaries definitely held bones.22 By Israeli law, all human remains from the tomb have to have been turned over to the Orthodox Jewish authorities for reburial, apparently precluding the possibility of DNA or any other kinds of scientific tests. I say "apparently" because most ossuaries, even those in the Israeli state archive collection, still contain slight residues of human remains and fragments of bone material. Unless the ossuaries are scrubbed clean, which is not the normal practice, modern sophisticated DNA tests can yield evidence from the tiniest sample.
I asked Gibson about the Talpiot tomb on a visit to Israel in 2004. He recalled two very unusual things about that particular tomb in addition to the interesting cluster of family names. The front of the tomb had a strange decoration carved into the façade over the entrance -- a circle
with an inverted pyramid over it. No one seemed to know what it might mean or symbolize. Also there were three skulls placed curiously on the floor of the tomb, each directly in front of a loculus or shaft holding ossuaries. Gibson pulled an old photo of the entrance to the tomb from his files. He also spread out in front of me his detailed original drawing of the plan of the tomb. The skulls were clearly visible, included in his plan just as he had seen them.
Curiously, in the official report on the tomb that Amos Kloner published in 1996, Gibson's drawing appears but with the skulls carefully airbrushed away. Gibson and I decided to do a bit of sleuthing. I think we might have been the first archaeologists in history to go looking for an ancient tomb by going out knocking on doors.