The Israel Antiquities Authority on Monday announced the bust of a smuggling network suspected of illegally trafficking in huge quantities of ancient and rare artifacts from several continents.
The IAA said it recovered thousands of “spectacular and rare” items at three warehouses in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, in a joint operation with the police and the tax authority. An unspecified number of suspects were detained for questioning.
The artifacts were suspected of being stolen from graves in the Mediterranean Basin, Africa, and South America.
Among the items seized in the raids were ancient coins, gemstones inlaid in jewelry, parts of statues, painted pottery, and figures of deities from the Roman era, which the IAA said were around 2,000 years old.
It also recovered vessels used for worship, parts of sculptures, and other items from the 5th century BCE.
The head of the IAA’s antiquities robbery prevention unit hailed the operation as “one of the most significant” in its history.
“Any archeological finding that is detached from its archeological context [that is] in the hands of antiquities robbers and sold for lucre, in effect products a black hole in history and it is this we’re working to prevent,” Amir Ganor was quoted as saying in a statement.
The IAA said it will seek to determine the origin of the items and if any were stolen from sites in Israel or the Mediterranean Basin, stressing that it will work with Interpol and other international law enforcement bodies.