Police seize hundreds of ancient artifacts in Jerusalem raid

Biblical-era ivory panels, 1,500-year-old magical incantation bowls, metal weapons and hundreds of bronze and silver coins are among the discovered illegal hoard.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Police arrested one suspect in Jerusalem and seized hundreds of ancient artifacts from his home as well as some he had already given to an auction house for sale, Hebrew-language media reported Monday.

Inspectors from the Robbery Prevention Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) joined police in raiding the man’s apartment in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood after receiving a court  search warrant. They found a huge stash of items dating from biblical times to some 1,500 years ago.

The biblical-era artifacts included rare objects made of bone and ivory that had Egyptian motifs. Winged lions called gryphons were etched in some panels, along with geometric shapes.

Similar ivory panels, which were usually nailed to wooden furniture as decoration, have been found in the past in Samaria and northern Israel.

The Antiquities Authority believes these artifacts were dug up illegally by treasure hunters from the same areas. They are hopeful that documents seized during the search will help them uncover the suspect’s ties to such robbers as well as to unauthorized antiquities dealers.

Another special find during the raid were bowls inscribed with magical spells in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic-Babylonian dating back to the 8th-4th centuries AD. These were generally buried underneath homes as a form of protection from curses, diseases, demons and other harmful elements.

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According to Amir Ganor, director of the Antiquities’ unit, “Bowls of this type originated in antiquities sites in…present-day Iraq” and were pilfered during the civil war in that country.

“Since 2003,” he explained, “thousands of stolen incantation bowls have reached the international market from there.”

In a video clip of part of the find, an image of a standing creature can be seen at the bottom of one bowl with a circle drawn around it. Ganor explained that the incantation was aimed at that demon, whom he identified as Lilith.

Each text, he said, “was written by artists for a specific client, according to his personal needs.”

The clip also shows whole bowls next to others that had clearly been glued together. Police found chemicals and other materials that they believe the suspect used to restore the pottery and clean such artifacts as glassware, metal weapons and hundreds of ancient bronze and silver coins, in order to promote their sale.

The investigation revealed that the suspect had already begun to try unloading his hoard. IAA inspectors went to an auction house in the center of the country and confiscated antiques similar to those found in the Jerusalem apartment, which the suspect had deposited for sale in violation of the law.

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The maximum sentence the suspect could receive if found guilty of all four crimes — trading in antiquities without a permit, failure to report an antiquity, failure to register a collection and possession of suspected stolen property — is three years.