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(photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)
Two antiquity smugglers were caught red-handed over the weekend while demolishing the remains of an ancient Jewish settlement in Israel's north with a bulldozer.
The two were caught after the Antiquities Authority's Anti-Robbery Unit found the week before that the archaeological site had been damaged and kept the site under round-the-clock surveillance. Known as Horbat Deborah, the site is identified with the biblical heroine Deborah, and with Dabra, a Jewish village that evidence suggested existed in the Sephoris region during the Roman period.
During the robbery gone wrong, the intruders managed to shatter underground caves and uproot masonry stones that were part of the remains of the 2,000-year-old
settlement. In the debris, a fragment of basalt millstones, used to grind flour, and potsherds from the Hellenistic period were also found.
The robbers, two brothers in their 30s from the nearby village of Daburiyya, were handed over to the police for investigation. A Magistrate Court judge released them on bail Monday.
According to Nir Distelfeld, an inspector for Antiquities Authority's Anti-Robbery Unit in the north, illegal excavations have caused terrible and irreversible destruction to archaeological sites.
The particular site where the robbers were caught has repeatedly attracted attempts to dig illegally for antiquities, Distelfeld said.
"The money puts people out of their minds," he said. "I am relieved that they were arrested so that more damage was prevented."
Illegal digging at archeological sites is a criminal offense punishable with up to five years in prison.