A limestone burial box that may be the oldest archaeological link to Jesus was badly damaged in transit from Israel to Canada, according to officials at the Royal Ontario Museum.
Dan Rahimi, the museum's director of collections management, said in a telephone interview that the box -- called an ossuary -- had wide cracks but remained whole.
"The box was badly damaged, but still intact. It has not broken," Rahimi said. "It's very serious damage, but not unusual for a limestone box of this age."
He said impact or vibration during the trip from Israel probably widened old cracks and caused new ones. Some of the cracks were a millimeter wide, enough to "slip a dime in," Rahimi said.
The limestone box, which is scheduled to go on display Nov. 16, is inscribed in Aramaic with the words "Ya'akov (James), son of Yosef (Joseph), brother of Yeshua (Jesus)."
If, as some scholars maintain, the box and the inscription are authentic, it would be the first physical artifact from the first century related to Jesus.
Israel granted a four-month export license for the ancient burial box, which belongs to a private Israeli collector.
Museum officials said the owner was responsible for the object's transportation to Canada and insurance. Rahimi said the company that handled the packing and shipping was reputable, adding that antiquities such as limestone boxes always present a risk during transport.