Illicit antiques seized by police date back to Bar Kochba revolt

A treasure trove of antiquities seized from illicit dealers is believe to have originally been taken by Bar Kochba rebels from Roman soldiers.

By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News

A hoard of antique treasures confiscated from three illicit antiques dealers in the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem last week are believed to have been the spoils of war, seized by Bar Kokhba rebels while fighting Roman soldiers.

Among the remarkable finds were two ornate 2,000-year-old bronze censers that would have been used to burn ritual incense, a bronze wine jug decorated with a Roman banqueting scene, an ornate tripod bowl, clay lamps and hundreds of coins dating from the second to third centuries CE.

Bronze findings are fairly rare as metal was an expensive commodity and seized items were often melted down for reuse. These items were likely seized by Bar Kokhba rebels and then stashed away in the Judean mountains for safekeeping. The pagan images and symbols decorating the items would have prevented the Jewish fighters from using them, as to do so would have violated Jewish laws on idolatry.

The items were discovered by chance when detectives from the Lev HaBira police station in Jerusalem spotted a car heading the wrong way up a one-way street. When detectives stopped and searched the vehicle, they were astonished to discover a box crate containing the items. Investigations into three men who were in the car revealed that the trio were antiques dealers.

Inspectors from the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Antiquities Robbery Prevention Unit were called to the police station and immediately identified the finds as being from the late-Roman Age. It is believed that they were stolen from an archaeological site with the intention to sell them.

The director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Eli Eskozido, said the IAI “is working day and night to combat illicit excavations at antiquities sites around the country, in cooperation with the Israel Police and other law enforcement agencies. These ancient finds embody the country’s history, but for robbers and dealers they are merely a commodity, sold to the highest bidder for pure greed.

“It is tremendously important to prevent any attempts to deal in illegal antiquities, to recover valuable finds and to return them to the public and the State. When legal proceedings against the suspects are complete, the Israel Antiquities Authority will ask the court to confiscate the finds and hand them to us for conservation and further research.”

Bronze jug for serving wine. (Photo: Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority.)

Bronze jug for serving wine. (Photo: Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority.)

Amir Ganor, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Robbery Prevention Unit, commented: “We recently identified unauthorized archaeological excavations at a site from the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt located near the Tarqumiya border crossing. The information was passed on to the IDF and the Archaeology Department of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria. They launched an operation in an attempt to capture suspects, but unfortunately the robbers managed to escape. When they fled, they left behind ancient finds that are similar to those now recovered in the suspects’ possession. We believe that the finds that were recently recovered in Jerusalem were taken from this site.”

Ganor added: “I would like to commend the actions of the detectives from Lev HaBira police station in Jerusalem, whose vigilance led to the finds’ recovery and the success of the investigation, thus thwarting the attempted sale of unique antiquities in this instance.”