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Rescued Artifacts From Antiquities Thieves to Be Displayed in Jerusalem

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On December 30, the Bible Lands Museum opens a new exhibit, Finds Gone Astray, which unveils archaeological finds stolen by antiquities thieves, and seized by the Civil Administration’s chief staff officer for archeology in Judea and Samaria between 1968 and the present day. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

An unusual exhibit opens on December 30, revealing dozens of important items that were rescued from looters and unlicensed antiquities dealers in Judea and Samaria, as part of a unique cooperation between the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem and the Israel staff officer of archeology in the Civil Administration.

On December 30, the Bible Lands Museum opens a new exhibit, Finds Gone Astray, which unveils archaeological finds stolen by antiquities thieves, and seized by the Civil Administration’s chief staff officer for archeology in Judea and Samaria between 1968 and the present day.

The entire collection of confiscated items contains tens of thousands of artifacts including pottery and stone vessels, figurines, clay tablets bearing inscriptions, coins, incantation bowls and more, constituting an assemblage of great importance to our understanding of the history of the ancient Near East.

Some of the finds originated from other parts of the Middle East and were smuggled into the region, while others were illegally excavated using tools and methods, often causing irreversible damage to archaeological sites of enormous local historical significance. Hours of intensive detective work including patient surveillance, carefully-planned ambushes, and nightly observations led to successfully intercepting the thieves and retrieving these priceless artifacts. The rescued objects have been carefully preserved and stored, and numerous looters operating in Judea and Samaria have been prosecuted.

Finds Gone Astray will open in the presence of Culture Minister Miri Regev, Deputy Minister of Defense Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, Head of the Civil Administration Brigadier Gen. Ben-Hur Akhvat, Staff Officer of Archeology of the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria Area Hananya Hezmi, Director General of the Israel Antiquities Authority Israel Hasson, and the Director of the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem Amanda Weiss.

The opening will mark the release of the first volume in a new series of publications cataloguing the tens of thousands of artifacts that have been intercepted and rescued in Judea and Samaria. This first volume is the fruit of a laborious process of documentation, photography, registration, laboratory cleaning, preservation, restoration and scientific testing to determine the age and origin of each item, and preserve their scientific value for generations to come.

Decades of hard work by the Archaeological Staff Officer’s Unit has resulted in the location and seizure of over 40,000 stolen artifacts. Now, thanks to this cooperation with the Bible Lands Museum, a selection of the objects will be displayed for the first time so that all might enjoy these treasures of our shared cultural heritage.

Amanda Weiss, Director of the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem: “the primary goal of the Museum is to present the vital history of our region, the crossroads of the ancient world, through innovative exhibitions and programming. Finds Gone Astray is a unique opportunity to shed light on the importance of preserving the history of our region and protecting our ancient sites. We welcome this partnership with the Civil Administration Officer of the Archaeological Staff Unit, and are proud to host the exhibition and launch of the publication to help increase public awareness to the jeopardy in which our heritage is in these objects are witnesses to history and link the generations in the universal story of the development of humankind.”

Head of the Central Command, Hananya Hezmi: “Theft and destruction of antiquities is a widespread phenomenon that crosses borders for a range of reasons. In Judea and Samaria specifically, there is rampant destruction of ancient sites caused by preparations for cultivating or building on the land. The methods used by the antiquities looters to uncover and expose the findings are brutal, causing irreversible damage to both sites and the findings and clearly harming academic research. We will continue to do everything in our power and invest the necessary resources in order to stop the damage to our shared culture and history.”

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