We went back to the neighborhood, to the very street, where the tomb had once been visible nearly twenty-five years earlier. An apartment complex had indeed been built on the site. We began asking around and to our surprise long-term residents knew the location of an "apartment of the tomb." Many thought that apartment was jinxed, and it had become the subject of local ghost stories. We knocked on the door and the present owner confirmed for us that there was a tomb under the floor of his apartment, just off the kitchen, where there was a raised porch area. Two ventilation vents marked the spot. The builders had constructed things so that the tomb had been preserved. The owner told us that he had bought the place at a good price, despite the stories, and he was not a believer in such superstitions.
Over the next year Gibson and I gathered every bit of published information about the Talpiot tomb. In 2005 we examined the original excavation files in the Israeli archives because Gibson had been the surveyor on the original team. We read the unpublished handwritten notes of Gath, the deceased excavator. As we looked through the Talpiot file we learned that two tombs had been found in the area, in close proximity to each other. One had been sealed up and left unexcavated. The other was the tomb Gibson had drawn -- the one with the unusual cluster of names. Whether they might be related we had no idea, but that possibility did occur to us. We were not sure which of the two tombs was under the apartment. The only way to know would be to try and drop a robot camera down the ventilation pipes to see whether the tomb had been excavated or not. It was not clear that we would find anything of importance if we ever did go back into the excavated tomb, but our interest was piqued. The strange insignia on the front of the tomb, the skulls that had been ceremonially placed in front of the ossuaries, and the interesting cluster of names all begged for an explanation.
We decided to drive out to Bet Shemesh just outside Jerusalem to take a look at the Talpiot ossuaries firsthand. They are now stored, along with hundreds of other archaeological artifacts, in the new warehouse built there by the Israel Antiquities Authority. There one sees shelf after shelf, floor to ceiling, of neatly stacked and stored materials, all carefully catalogued and labeled. Most of the ossuaries in the State of Israel collection are housed there. There was one major surprise.
The Missing Ossuary
Shimon Gibson's original drawing of the excavation of the Talpiot tomb clearly shows a total of ten ossuaries. In the official publication of the excavation Amos Kloner also confirms that ten ossuaries were recovered and retained by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Kloner carefully goes through them one by one in his report and describes them in detail as to size, decoration, and inscriptions. When he comes to the last, the tenth, he offers a single-word description: plain. Nothing more. Apparently he had nothing in his files regarding this tenth ossuary other than its dimensions: 60 by 26 by 30 centimeters. With each description he includes a photo of the ossuary under discussion -- all except the tenth. Since Kloner was not the original excavator he is merely writing up his report based on the notes of the now-deceased Gath.