He chronicled his Indiana Jones-type search in a new documentary called "The Nails of the Cross," which was screened today at a news conference in Jerusalem and will be broadcast in the U.S., Canada and Israel in the coming weeks.
Jacobovici presented two first-century Roman nails that were bent "in a way that is consistent with crucifixion." He contends that these are the same nails found in the burial tomb of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest who is associated in the Gospels with the crucifixion of Jesus, although he found them at a lab in Tel Aviv University.
In the Israel Antiquities Authority's report on the discovery, they mention two 8-centimeter iron nails that were found in the tomb. One was discovered on the ground; the other was inside one of the ossuaries and had limestone residue from the ossuary. Around the same time, Tel Aviv University received a delivery of two nails that fit the description; Professor Israel Hershkowitz, a researcher in bio-history, put them in a safe there.
"Based on the size, shape and condition of the nails, it is possible that these were used in crucifixion," Hershkowitz says in the documentary.
Jacobovici has won three Emmys and hosts "The Naked Archaeologist," which airs on the History Channel. He says he spent two years tracking down the nails.
"There were two nails discovered in Caiaphas' tomb that went missing, and two nails that showed up at Tel Aviv University that match the description and the time period," Jacobovici told AOL News today. "I can't say 100 percent that these are THE nails used in the crucifixion, but I connected the dots, and it's certainly possible."
While nails are frequently found in residential areas, they are rarely found in tombs.
"I can think of only one other site, in Jericho, where iron nails were found in a Second Temple area Jewish tomb," said Israeli archaeologist Gaby Barkay of the Hebrew University. "And we excavated more than 1,100 caves."
How the nails got lost is not clear. In the film, Gideon Avni of the Israel Antiquities Authority says that his organization conducts more than 300 excavations a year with tens of thousands of finds, and it is easy to imagine that the nails simply got misplaced.
Since its discovery, the Caiaphas tomb has not been accessible to the public. The tomb was sealed and a park built over the site.
The Israel Antiquities Authority, which oversaw the Jerusalem excavation, has its doubts. First of all, officials there said, it's never been proven beyond doubt that the tomb was the burial place of Caiaphas. It also said that nails are commonly found in tombs.
"There is no doubt that the talented director Simcha Jacobovici created an interesting film with a real archaeological find at its center, but the interpretation presented in it has no basis in archaeological findings or research," the authority said.