Police and Israel Antiquities Authority agents on Tuesday arrested an art dealer from northern Israel after finding him with over 3,000 illegally obtained ancient coins — valued in the tens of thousands of dollars.
The suspect, a resident of Kibbutz Beit Hashita and a licensed antiquities dealer, was charged with attempting to sell the objects he illegally acquired to buyers abroad, and to do so without an export permit. The IAA said in a statement on Thursday that investigators found over 3,000 coins — some over 2,000 years old — and lead and ceramic objects in the man’s home.
By Israeli law, antiquities found in Israel are property of the state, and the IAA must be notified within 15 days of discovery.
Most of the coins in the man’s collection dated from the Byzantine period, but the trove included rarer items from the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome — the Bar Kochba Revolt of 132-135 CE — and Roman coins celebrating the crushing of the Jewish Revolt in 70 CE bearing the words “Judaea Capta” — Judea Conquered. Other coins were from the later Muslim era.
The man said he assembled a large portion of the coin collection by collecting them in the fields near the kibbutz and cleaning them in a lab in his home, the report said.
Beit Hashita is situated five miles from Beit She’an, which was a major Greek city known as Scythopolis during the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods.
The man, whose name wasn’t immediately released for publication, copped to illegal sale of antiquities and exporting antiquities without a permit. He was released to house arrest and his artifacts and computer confiscated by the authorities. Formal charges are expected to be brought against the suspect in the coming days.
Dr. Eitan Klein, the IAA’s deputy head of antiquities theft prevention, called the matter a “very severe” case and urged that the man be stripped of his license and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
“Objects found in the hands of antiquities dealers must come from a legal and reliable source, and under no circumstances may one collect ancient things from fields in the State of Israel and essentially steal property belonging to the public,” he said in a statement. Actions such as the dealer in question “directly harm the cultural heritage of us all, and the ability of archaeologists to make historical discoveries in future excavations.”
Speaking to The Times of Israel, Klein said that there were 60 to 70 antiquities theft cases filed with the police in 2015 involving roughly 300 suspects.