Fearing the end is nigh, man returns stolen 2,000-year-old artifact to park
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ArchaeologyLikely used by Roman Legion soldiers, around 70 CE

Fearing the end is nigh, man returns stolen 2,000-year-old artifact to park

For 15 years, theft of a catapult bolt stone weighed on his mind. With the coronavirus crisis, anonymous Israeli uses go-between to restore national treasure, unburden conscience

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

  • 2,000-year-old ballista stone returned to the City of David by an anonymous Israeli 15 years after he stole it.  
(Moshe Manies)
    2,000-year-old ballista stone returned to the City of David by an anonymous Israeli 15 years after he stole it. 
(Moshe Manies)
  • Ballista stones from the City of David. (Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority)
    Ballista stones from the City of David. (Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • Illustration of a 2,000-year-old ballista machine. (Shalom Kveller, courtesy of the City of David Archives)
    Illustration of a 2,000-year-old ballista machine. (Shalom Kveller, courtesy of the City of David Archives)
  • The ballista stone which was recently returned to the City of David. (Uzi Rotstein, Israel Antiquities Authority)
    The ballista stone which was recently returned to the City of David. (Uzi Rotstein, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Fearing the end of the world, an Israeli returned a 2,000-year-old catapult bolt to the City of David National Park — 15 years after he’d absconded with it. “The time has come to clear my conscience. It feels that the end of the world is near,” the anonymous citizen said in an Israel Antiquities Authority press release on Monday.

While the jury’s still out on whether the world is ending — due to the current coronavirus pandemic or any of the other pressing existential threats — the IAA took advantage of the opportunity to call on citizens to return archaeological finds to the State Treasury, so that the entire public can benefit from them, it said.

The citizen did not deliver the bowling-ball sized stone directly. Rather, he used as a go-between a man called Moshe Manies, who agreed not to divulge the thief’s identity. According to Manies, the original theft occurred when two mischievous youths touring the park 15 years ago saw a display of ballista stones, which had been catapulted at fortifications.

The IAA’s Jerusalem Region Archaeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch explained in the press release that ballistae are a form of ancient weapons, which were used by forces besieging a city, and were used to hurl stones to cause forces on fortress walls to flee.

“The ballista stones which were uncovered at the City of David are most likely connected to the harsh battles between the besieged residents of Jerusalem and the soldiers of the Roman Legion, from around 70 CE – the year of the destruction of Jerusalem,” said Baruch.

Other locations in Jerusalem where similar ballista stones were uncovered include the Russian Compound near the estimated path of the Third Wall, which was the external wall of Jerusalem during the time of the Second Temple. “In the excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority there, a battlefield was uncovered, with dozens of ballista stones scattered on the ground,” said Baruch.

Fifteen years ago in the City of David, upon seeing a pile of these ancient projectiles, “One of the boys took one of the stones home,” recounted go-between Manies in a Facebook post that drew the attention of the IAA. “Meanwhile, he married and raised a family, and told me that for the past 15 years the stone is weighing heavily on his heart. And now, when he came across it while cleaning for Passover, together with the apocalyptic feeling the coronavirus generated, he felt the time was ripe to clear his conscience, and he asked me to help him return it to the Israel Antiquities Authority,” said Manies.

An inspector in the IAA’s Theft Prevention Unit, Uzi Rotstein, was tagged in one of the comments of Manies’s post. They arranged for a quick hand-off of the artifact. Taking the artifact from its archaeological context “negatively impacts the research and the ability to piece together its historical puzzle,” said Rotstein, who commended its return.

“These artifacts, which are thousands of years old, are our national treasure. They tell the story of The Land and of who resided here before us, and should be documented and displayed,” said Rotstein.

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