Antiquities Authority raid yields 2,000-year-old stolen artifacts
By Noah Kosharek
The Antiquities Authority recently seized an extraordinarily large quantity of artifacts, some believed to date back more than 2,000 years, from a moshav near Hod Hasharon. Inspectors from the authority’s unit for the prevention of theft believe the owner of a business that deals in garden ornaments was selling artifacts thought to have been stolen.
The man was taken to the Kfar Sava police station, where he was questioned by experts from the authority.
“It all began when we received a tip about a place that appeared to be trading in antiquities and where the quantity [of objects] appeared to be quite large,” said Guy Fitoussi, an archeologist and an inspector in the unit. A few weeks ago, he visited the site in question – an open field on the moshav – without revealing his identity.
Speaking to Haaretz, Fitoussi says he was amazed by what he found in terms of “the quantity, the fact that everything was concentrated in such a relatively small area, and the fact that [the removal of these items] causes irreplaceable harm to the archeological sites. And what’s worse, we don’t know where these things came from.”
Following his inspection, the authority issued a search warrant and sent a team out to the site last Thursday, where they spent hours using a crane to load the items onto trucks. Three truckloads of artifacts were removed altogether, weighing several tons. The seized items included parts of olive presses; capitals and bases of stone pillars; lintels; a magnificent stone gate; and two engraved sarcophagi from stone.
“I don’t recall ever seeing this many pieces,” Fitoussi said. “It is certainly one of the largest hauls. We can’t recall confiscating such an amount from any one person in the past decade.”
It is presumed that the suspect bought some of the items in the West Bank, while others were stolen from archeological sites inside Israel. It is not yet clear whether he was responsible for the thefts himself, or if he acquired the artifacts from others.
“The suspect said during the investigation that this was his private collection, and he denied trading in antiquities,” Fitoussi said. The suspect also reportedly told his interrogators that he had planned to place the artifacts in public gardens.
Officials from the Antiquities Authority believe the man brought archeological items from the Palestinian territories into Israel in contravention of the law, that he dealt in antiquities without holding a license to do so, and that he damaged archeological sites in Israel by removing objects from them at his own initiative.
“It seems as if this business has been operating for several years,” Fitoussi added. “We suspect the artifacts were brought into Israel via Qalqilyah and there is a reasonable basis to believe that some were stolen inside Israel.”
“The damage done to archeological sites by removing objects of this kind is tremendous,” he continued. “It irreparably harms our ability to learn about various historical eras and to pass on to the next generations the information and historical knowledge embodied in archeological sites.”
Officials at the authority pointed out that persons who remove ancient artifacts from an archeological site without permission face sentences of up to five years in prison.