Inspectors of the Israel Antiquities Authority exposed an attempt to smuggle a rare archaeological artifact from the time of Bar Kokhba. The item, a decorated lead weight bearing an early Hebrew inscription, was stashed away inside a book.
Intelligence shared by the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Customs Authority and the Postal Authority resulted in foiling an attempt at smuggling a rare lead weight from Israel to the New York. The weight, dating from the time of the Bar Kokhba uprising (2nd century CE), is adorned with Jewish symbols (a palm branch or menorah). On the weight are stamped Hebrew letters that are identical in style and character with the script that appears on Jewish coins from the time of the first and second revolts against the Romans. The inscription has not yet been deciphered. Inspectors with the Antiquities Authority estimate that the weight originated in an illicit excavation that was conducted by antiquity robbers in one of the sites in the Judean Shephelah. To date only four other such weights of this kind are known. These weights are a measure of a minah – a unit of weight from the time of the Second Temple – used in weighing silver and gold ingots. The name of Shimon Bar Kokhba – Prince of Israel – is engraved on top of the weight.
Members of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery stated that they were amazed to discover the rare artifact between the cut-out pages of a book and reported that this is the first time that an attempt to smuggle an antiquity in this manner has been discovered. After having uncovered the attempt, inspectors from the Antiquities Authority began investigating and a search warrant was executed in the home of the suspected smuggler – a former antiquities dealer. Amir Ganor, director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, says that his unit is dealing with an individual familiar with the Law of Antiquities and that the artifact was intended for a well-known American antiquities dealer. “The suspect was aware that this is a rare item which the Antiquities Authority would never allow to leave the country due to its historic and scientific importance”, Ganor added.
While carrying out the search warrant in the suspect’s home other ancient finds were revealed and documents that allegedly raise suspicion of additional similar violations of the Law of Antiquities. In light of the finds the Antiquities Authority intends to request permission from the American authorities for members of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery to conduct an investigation in the United States, within the framework of which the American dealer will also be formally questioned.
The Antiquities Authority has turned the case over to the prosecutor’s office for preparation of charges against the smuggler, namely a violation of the Law of Antiquities – the exportation of antiquities from the State of Israel without a permit – an offense that carries a penalty of two years imprisonment, and also suspicion of possession of stolen property.
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