‘We were just hunting porcupines,’ claims antiquities robber
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‘We were just hunting porcupines,’ claims antiquities robber

Twice in one night, Israel Antiquities Authority theft-prevention unit catch suspects excavating at 2,000-year-old sites

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

Capture of antiquities theft suspect at Hurvat Dvora near Nazareth, December 12, 2017. (Nir Distelfeld/Israel Antiquities Authority)
Capture of antiquities theft suspect at Hurvat Dvora near Nazareth, December 12, 2017. (Nir Distelfeld/Israel Antiquities Authority)

Tuesday night was busy for the Israel Antiquity Authority’s theft-prevention unit in the Lower Galilee region. In two separate instances, inspectors encountered antiquities robbers in the process of illegal excavations.

Capture of suspect at Mount Hazon in the Lower Galilee, December 12, 2017. (Nir Distelfeld/Israel Antiquities Authority)

“We were just hunting porcupines,” said one of the robbers in explanation of his presence in the middle of the night at a 2,000-year-old grave on Mount Hazon near the Druze/Arab village of Maghar.

Ironically, just last week, porcupines were the cause of the  fortuitous excavation of a 2,200-year-old Hasmonean period oil lamp which was discovered at the mouth of a den in the Beit She’an Valley.

Karmiel law enforcement aided the IAA’s theft prevention unit in capturing the suspect, a 20-something Maghar resident. The suspect was brought to the Acre Magistrate’s Court. Two other suspects escaped.

The area is known for its 1st century CE archaeological sites, including graves, quarries, caves, and an early industrial complex that has been identified as a tile manufacturing center for the Roman Sixth Legion.

All the same, the theft-prevention unit was not expecting a second call last night.

Capture of antiquities theft suspect at Hurvat Dvora near Nazareth, December 12, 2017. (Nir Distelfeld/Israel Antiquities Authority)

At 1:30 am, a joint team of IAA inspectors and Lower Galilee police caught a gang of five suspects at caves at the Hurvat Dvora archaeological site, which was settled since the Bronze Age 5,000 years ago, located near the Nazareth-area village of Daburiyya. At the site there is evidence of habitation during the Persian, Hellenistic, Roman Byzantine and Islamic Mamluk periods.

Three of the suspects were caught inside the extensive cave, digging and destroying antiquities, according to an IAA press release. The gang’s two lookouts were caught outside.

“It’s sad that money influences people so. The illegal excavations cause irreparable damage to heritage sites and historical research is forever harmed,” said archaeologist Nir Distelfeld, the IAA’s theft prevention inspector for northern Israel.

The suspects were detained at the Tiberias police station, interrogated and released on bail. Destruction of historical sites carries punishment of up to five years’ imprisonment.

Capture of suspect at Mount Hazon in the Lower Galilee, December 12, 2017. (Nir Distelfeld/Israel Antiquities Authority)
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