Israeli customs authorities stopped a Palestinian man for allegedly attempting to smuggle several dozen ancient coins into the West Bank from Jordan.
The man was crossing from Jordan into the West Bank through the Allenby Bridge last week and was found to be in possession of 53 coins dating from the first century BCE to the 13th century CE, the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said Monday.
A customs official asked him to empty his pockets and noticed a bag of coins. The suspect, identified only as a man from the city of Tulkarem, was arrested by Israeli police and the coins were transferred to the Civil Administration’s archaeology staff officer.
A spokeswoman for the police said the suspect was released from custody and that the case was under investigation. The suspect told officers that he purchased the coins in Jordan, but that he wasn’t an antiquities dealer.
Charges have yet to be filed against the suspect with the relevant prosecutors.
“I am glad to see that once again the cooperation between all officials had prevent the theft of the history of all of us,” said Benny Har-Even, deputy archaeology coordination officer in the IDF’s Civil Administration, the agency charged with managing civil affairs for the IDF in the West Bank.
Har-Even declined to provide additional information about the coins, except saying that they ranged from the Roman to Mamluk eras. The artifacts will remain in the Civil Administration’s custody for study, a COGAT spokesperson said.
It was unclear where the coins came from, or where they were bound, but they were likely destined for the antiquities black market. Many antiquities excavated illegally in Syria, Jordan and Iraq have made their way illicitly to licensed dealers in Israel.
“Artifacts routinely arrive from Palestine, Jordan, Israel and elsewhere, enter a process of laundering, and then are sold as ‘legally’ exported from licensed dealers in Israel,” antiquities theft expert Morag Kersel of DePaul University wrote in a 2008 paper on the subject.
A customs authority spokesman said that nabbing antiquities smugglers at the border crossing wasn’t particularly common. In the past year, he said, there have only been a small handful of incidents, including the arrest of a Norwegian Embassy driver who stashed antiquities in a diplomatic vehicle
Earlier this month, a man was arrested at the Allenby Bridge in possession of a Roman-era statuette.
The statuette-carrying man, a resident of a village near Nablus, told police he bought the artifact in Jordan and that it wasn’t the first time he brought antiquities home to the West Bank. He, too, was released from custody while the case is being investigated by police.