The Israel Antiquities Authority launched a campaign Tuesday to register the estimated 100,000 citizens who have private antiquities collections.
According to a law passed in 2002, an "antiquities collector" is anyone with 15 or more artifacts, and all antiquities collectors must register with the IAA. However, only several hundred collectors are currently known to the state.
"Maybe some of them have a specific item that is very important to archeology and nobody knows about it, so we need to know what they have," Amir Ganor, director of the IAA's Prevention of Antiquities Theft and Supervision of Antiquities Sales Division, told The Jerusalem Post.
In February, regulations allowing the IAA to enforce this law took effect, with a penalty of up to six months in jail and a significant fine.
"One of the things we want to do in this operation is to help people not break the law," Ganor said.
Those who report their antiquities will receive a certificate designating them
as a collector and, if they choose, an appraisal of the historical significance of their artifacts.
Ganor made it clear that collectors would not be asked to give up any of their artifacts.
"The items belong to the collector, and we are not trying to take anything from the collector," he said.
Between now and December 31, the IAA hopes to register thousands of collectors, which can be done on the IAA's Web site or at any of their offices throughout the country. Once collectors are registered, they will be asked to send a list of the artifacts in their possession, along with photographs, to the IAA. Archeologists from the IAA will be available to help with this task if needed.
"We call on members of the public who hold pieces of history to assist us in gathering the archeological information, which is part of the whole puzzle that makes up our past," Ganor said. "Without parts of the puzzle, it is difficult to know what the complete picture is exactly."