Antiquity looters caught digging up ancient well in Israel, searching for treasure

“It must be made absolutely clear to the public that rumors of hidden treasures have no archaeological or historical basis.”

By World Israel News Staff

The Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit in the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has caught a team of three antiquity robbers “on the job,” excavating and destroying historical layers in an Ottoman well in southern Israel, the IAA announced Thursday.

The well is located next to the cemetery in the predominantly Bedouin city of Rahat in the Negev Desert.

The team is suspected of searching for a hidden treasure, which, according to a Bedouin myth, was buried in the well, located in the cave.

The archaeological site of Horvat Maaravim, near Rahat, includes ancient remains from the Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic, and Ottoman period, and is being guarded by the IAA.

On Tuesday night, in the early evening, suspicious figures were seen approaching the site, and entering the cave covering over the rock-hewn water well, located on the southern side of the site.

Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit inspectors rushed to the site, reached the cave entrance without being spotted, and then caught the robbers in the act of digging up the archaeological site, the IAA said.

The suspects, in their 20s, were arrested—with the assistance of Border Patrol Police and the security staff of the Rahat municipality—and were taken for questioning.

One of the looters was arrested and charged for a similar offense in 2020. He received a punishment, on probation, of half a year of imprisonment and a fine of 30,000 shekels.

Read  Horror stories lead to judgment day for Israel’s legal system - analysis

“After the summer heat, we witness an increase in antiquity robbing activities,” said Israel Antiquities Authority Director Eli Escusido.

“The Israel Antiquities Authority is busy combating the phenomenon of antiquity theft day and night. The looters are motivated by money greed, and they rip the finds from their archaeological context, thus damaging the country’s heritage.”

According to Amir Ganor, director of the IAA’s Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit, “It must be made absolutely clear to the public that rumors of hidden treasures have no archaeological or historical basis. No treasure has been discovered to date, but irreparable damage has been done to the archaeological sites, undermining the possibility to reconstruct the history of all the peoples of this country.”

Damaging an archaeological site is a grave criminal offense, for which the punishment by law is up to five years’ imprisonment, the IAA said.