Hundreds of ancient coins and ancient artifacts were found at the home of a suspected antiquities thief in Beit Shemesh last week after the man was caught in the act at a nearby archaeological site, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.
The suspect, an unidentified man in his 50s, was nabbed by Border Police officers at Khirbat Marmita, an archaeological site near the town of Naham, equipped with a metal detector and digging tools. The man had several bronze pieces in his possession, but he initially denied illegally searching for antiquities and knowing anything about ancient coins, the IAA said in a statement.
Khirbat Marmita is the site of a Roman and Byzantine-era Jewish town, from which recent limited excavations have yielded wine presses, stone vessels, a ritual bath and burial caves. The Judean Highlands around Beit Shemesh are home to scores of archaeological sites dating back thousands of years.
During the police investigation, the suspect admitted to hunting for ancient coins around his hometown of Beit Shemesh with a metal detector.
A search of the suspect’s house by IAA inspectors yielded over 800 coins in addition to bronze necklaces, seals and cosmetics tools, arrowheads, as well as equipment for cleaning metal.
Among the items found in the man’s house were 2,400-year-old coins from the Persian period in addition to Hellenistic and Roman era currency and some as recent as the Ottoman era, the IAA said. The coins were confiscated as evidence.
Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy head of the IAA’s unit to prevent antiquities theft, said that the artifacts found in the man’s possession have “no scientific value” because they were plundered from their archaeological setting, and that there was no way to determine where they came from.
“Searching for coins at archaeological sites with a metal detector is a serious criminal offense,” he said in a statement. “Ancient coins provide archaeologists with a greeting from history,” and contain invaluable information capable of helping date the surrounding strata.
“Disconnecting the coin from an archaeological site is irreversible damage,” he said, “which doesn’t allow a restoration of the data, and effectively erases a whole chapter of history from an archaeological site.”
He told The Times of Israel that over the course of 2014, the IAA has busted “probably over 100” antiquities thieves.
The IAA said that damaging archaeological sites is a criminal offense with a five-year prison sentence.
The suspect will be arraigned in the coming days while the indictment against him is drafted.