Monday, December 08, 2014

Dead Sea Scroll Thieves Caught Red-Handed

Antiquities thieves plunder sites all over the biblical world year after year, but rarely are they caught, especially in the act. The Israel Antiquities Authority nabbed a group of illegal diggers working near the Dead Sea. This press release has all of the fascinating details.

Today (Sunday) an indictment was handed up against antiquities robbers who tried to loot Dead Sea scrolls from the Judean Desert. This comes in the wake of a dramatic capture carried out last weekend by inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery of the Israel Antiquities Authority, with the assistance of the Arad Rescue Unit. The apprehension of the robbers was part of a complex operation to locate the Dead Sea scroll robbers, which lasted more than a year.

Early in the morning hours members of the Arad Rescue Unit, which were undergoing routine training at the time, identified suspicious movement in a cave in the northern cliff of Nahal Ze’elim, in the region of the Leopard’s Ascent.

Inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery of the Israel Antiquities Authority were called to the scene and they placed the cave under surveillance utilizing observation and photographic equipment. The suspects were observed in the cave carrying out an illicit excavation while using a metal detector and a large amount of excavating equipment.

The suspects dug in an ancient cave which is known in archaeological circles as “The Cave of the Skulls”. They caused tremendous damage in the cave by digging through layers of earth while destroying archaeological strata and historical evidence from the Roman period c. 2,000 years ago and the Chalcolithic period c. 5,000 years ago.

The cave is located in the side of the cliff, 150 meters above the bottom of Nahal Ze’elim and some 70 meters below the top of the cliff. It can only be reached on foot via a narrow goat’s path on top of rock fall, that passes upright bedrock walls and is extremely dangerous.

The suspects – all young men from the village of Seir in the vicinity of Hebron – demonstrated considerable expertise in reaching the cave by climbing and rappelling from the cliff while using special equipment they possessed.

After observing and documenting the suspects in action, the suspects began climbing to the top of the cliff during the evening while carrying on their back ancient finds (such as a 2,000 year old lice comb from the Roman period) and all of the digging equipment that included excavation tools, break-in equipment, two sophisticated metal detectors, lighting equipment and ropes, as well as large amounts of food and water, which indicate their intention to remain in the cave for many days. Inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery awaited the suspects at the top of the cliff. Upon arrival the suspects were immediately caught by the Israel Antiquities Authority personnel. They were detained and taken for questioning to the Arad police station where, with the assistance of the Arad police and investigators, they were interrogated for many hours and gave their version of events.

The press release continues here. The story is reported by the Jerusalem Post, the Associated Press, and the BBC. Nahal Ze’elim is located south of En Gedi and a few miles north of Masada.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Charles Savelle

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Looted cave in Nahal Ze’elim
Photos courtesy of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery of the Israel Antiquities Authority

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