Spanish Archaeologist Facing Prison Over Hoax Accusations

The Veleia Project was a series of excavations that began in 2005 at the archaeological Roman site of Iruña-Veleia. A significant discovery was believed to have been made when a series of nearly 300 ostracas (ceramic pieces) with words engraved in Latin , Basque, and Egyptian hieroglyphs were discovered on the site. Eliseo Gil, the excavation director, once boasted that their discovery would “rewrite the history books”. Gil is now facing prison over accusations about “one of the most bizarre archaeological hoaxes to ever be exposed”.

Gil’s Crucifixion.

In 2006, he showed pieces of clay with the inscription of an allegedly third-century Calvary that became the representation of the oldest crucifixion in history. He also showed the allegedly earliest Basque writings. His company gained a sponsorship of 3.7 million euros from Euskotren and also money granted by the Alava Provincial Council, the owner of the site.

The glory days were cut short in 2008 when a team of 26 experts concluded that the artifacts were fakes. The Public Ministry reports that Gil’s team manipulated up to 476 archaeological fragments that they found in a site in the neighboring the town of Nanclares de la Oca, Álava. The Provincial Council of Álava filed a complaint against Gil in 2009 which resulted in judicial proceedings.

“The Diputación de Álava, presented on May 4, 2009 in the Court of Instruction 1, two complaints against Eliseo Gil, one for fraud and another for damage to artistic heritage, as the main defendant. The Prosecutor’s Office of Alava requests five and a half years in prison. The Alava Provincial Council, as a private indictment, raises the petition to seven and a half years for a continuing crime against the historical and other fraud.”

The site of Iruña-Veleia.

Gil and two of his closest accomplices, Óscar Escribano and Rubén Cerdán, are all facing time in prison. Prior to the trial, the last time that Gil spoke about this publicly was in a press conference in 2015 when he said the accusations and ostracism have been “a torture”. In May 2016, Gil’s defense claimed the case file.

The trial began yesterday, on February 3rd, 2020. There will be ten sessions that will feature dozens of witnesses. Gil stated to the media upon entering the courthouse that he seeks to “defend and maintain” his ‘innocence”. The trial will last until February 18th.

Reportedly, Oscar Escribano has “already entered a plea deal for a lesser and fine, admitting his part in the scam and claiming it was only a joke”. Gil has supporters who believe in his innocence, but ultimately the verdict will be decided by the court.

Eliseo Gil.

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UPDATE: June 10th, 2020.

Eliseo Gil was found guilty and was convicted of forgery and fraud. He was sentenced to be in prison for two years, three months and 23 days.

The official verdict was announced on June 10th, 2020, some four months after the trial began.

Eliseo Gil, the excavation director, once boasted that their discovery would “rewrite the history books”.

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