Three looters busted plundering ancient tomb in Galilee
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Three looters busted plundering ancient tomb in Galilee

Suspects caught in the act robbing graves, disturbing interred remains near Roman-era Jewish site mentioned in Talmud

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Antiquities thieves exiting the burial cave in northern Israel when caught by IAA inspectors in December 2016. (Nis Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority)
Antiquities thieves exiting the burial cave in northern Israel when caught by IAA inspectors in December 2016. (Nis Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority)

The Israel Antiquities Authority busted a gang of thieves in the act of plundering an ancient tomb in northern Israel over the weekend, the organization said in a statement Wednesday.

The illegal excavation caused “serious damage to the archaeological layers and the interred.” Human remains buried in the cave, believed dating to the Roman period, were disturbed, an IAA spokeswoman said.

It was unclear whether the tomb was Jewish, but the cave is associated with Horbat Mishkena, a Jewish village during the Roman period known to archaeologists from surveys and rabbinic literature.

Three unnamed suspected thieves, all from the village of Tur’an in the lower Galilee, were caught in the act by operatives with the IAA’s antiquities theft prevention unit, but had already caused a “huge mess.”

“The village of Mishkena is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud as a Jewish village located half way between Sepphoris and Tiberias,” Nir Distelfeld, an IAA archaeologist, said. “The hollowed out burial caves, which are usually sealed with a large, heavy stone, sometimes contain items used in burial ceremonies.”

Items immaculately preserved in these caves could fetch a handsome price on the black market, he said, “and for the sake of money, the thieves destroy all of our history and erase whole parts of the archaeological puzzle of the country.”

The three suspects were arraigned at a local police station, interrogated and released on bail. If convicted, they could face a five year prison sentence for illegal excavation and destruction of antiquities.

Excavating tools confiscated from arrested antiquities thieves by IAA inspectors in December 2016. (Nis Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority)
Excavating tools confiscated from arrested antiquities thieves by IAA inspectors in December 2016. (Nis Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority)

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