• Mon. Feb 26th, 2024

Huge Bust of Illegal Antiquities Trade Seizes 1,800 Ancient Artifacts and Coins

May 19, 2022

The theft prevention unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority has made a recovery of 1,800 coins and ancient artifacts from an unlicensed dealer in what is being regarded as one of the largest busts to occur in Israeli history. The dealer was based in the city of Modiin and the artifacts that were seized mostly included jewelry and coins, along with bronze statuettes and cuneiform tablets. A judge had granted a wide-ranging search warrant on Sunday of the private home of the dealer, after which the items were seized. Ilan Haddad, the trade supervisor of IAA Antiquities said on Thursday that all online antiquities auction platforms are periodically checked by the IAA.

These include eBay as well as new online storefronts that are based in Israel. The unlicensed dealer is in his 50s or 60s and his online store was used to identify him, as it boasted an Israeli IP address. On Thursday, a press release from the IAA said that their unit had cooperated with the Modiin police to search the man’s home. The suspected had been interrogated and had admitted to illegally purchasing, trading, and then smuggling abroad coins that had been excavated from digs conducted privately in the West Bank. 

It is believed that thousands of coins have been smuggled abroad already. The capture of the unlicensed dealer was likened by Haddad to that of a mafia boss. He said that those on the ground were just the little fish and it was the money that really pulled the engine. He added that the unit was working on exposing the people who had conducted the excavations illegally and had taken the coins from the ground. There are hundreds of rare coins that are in the list of seized items. Some of the coins were minted during the Great Revolt and can be dated from the Hasmonean and Persian periods.

In fact, some of the coins are also tied to the holiday of Lag B’Omer on Thursday and there are also those inscribed with Shimon Bar Kochba, the Jewish leader. A lot of the coins that were recovered had been awaiting shipment, as they were found in addressed postal envelopes. According to Haddad, it is impossible to determine where the artifacts are from, but they most probably came from the West Bank. He said that if they were unable to make an arrest from the site, they would not be able to get any context and be able to place the artifacts accurately.

While details about the investigation and the suspect are still not disclosed, Haddad stated that the unlicensed dealer’s Modiin home had been the base of illegal trading and had been ongoing for a long time. Haddad said that the suspect is a professional, as he knows archaeology and how to clean and price the coins. The IAA press release stated that a silver ‘shekel’ was one of the items that was seized on Sunday that had been minted during the Great Revolt and was found in the suspect’s study, half-cleaned. 

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