Israel Antiquities Authority shocked at return of thousands of illegally held items

A 1,700-year-old anchor was returned by a citizen who found it while in a diving expedition off of Palmachim beach in 1996.

By World Israel News Staff

In a nationwide campaign this month, Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the Ministry of Heritage have reported the return of thousands of illegally held antiquities by citizens.

The operation, titled “If it’s old – return it with a click!”, was originally scheduled to end on Thursday but has been extended for another week due to an unexpected volume of returns, including a 1,700-year-old anchor.

Yair Amitzur, the director of IAA’s educational initiatives for the central region, expressed surprise at the quantity and diversity of items being returned. “We knew that people had things at home, but we had no idea what they had,” he said. “We’re seeing that people are returning things from the entire timeline of Israel’s history, all kinds of pottery from all of the periods, even things from prehistory.”

The bounty includes bronze items, jewelry, metal tools, and stone carvings, among other finds, Amitzur said.

In a remarkable discovery, a citizen named Moshe returned a 1,700-year-old anchor that he found while in a diving expedition off of Palmachim beach in 1996. The lightweight, small anchor is a rare find as most anchors discovered are much larger and heavier, according to Kobi Sharvit, the director of IAA’s Maritime Archaeology Unit. Sharvit believes the anchor, likely from the Roman period, was probably used for a small fishing boat.

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Apart from the anchor, other significant items returned include two bronze handles with lion-like heads from a Roman-period wooden coffin, Hasmonean coins from the time of the Great Maccabean Revolt, Crusader-period cannon balls from Akko, and an intricately carved stone coffin that has been used as a bench at Kibbutz Yagur, near Haifa, for over a century.

The campaign allows anyone to contact the IAA or the Ministry of Heritage through various platforms to report and return their privately held antiquities, without facing any consequences. The response to the campaign indicates a greater awareness among the public about the importance of these artifacts and the law stating that any item created before 1700 CE is considered an antiquity and automatically belongs to the state.

Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu underscored the significance of the campaign, stating that the returned antiquities will aid in constructing the historical narrative of the Land of Israel. Eli Eskosido, the director-general of the IAA, further emphasized the importance of preserving these artifacts against the ravages of time. “Some of them will go on display, and could possibly further inform us about the country’s past,” Eskosido added.