Antiquities Authority arrests looter attempting to steal buried coins

Suspect and 5 accomplices used metal detectors in Judean Mountains to unearth Byzantine-era gold.

Judean Mountains 370 (photo credit: Antiquities Authority)
Judean Mountains 370
(photo credit: Antiquities Authority)
One man is under arrest after attempting to illegally unearth Byzantine-era gold coins in ruins in the Judean Mountains, an inspector with the Antiquities Authority said Sunday.
Five other suspects remain at large.
On Wednesday morning at approximately 10:30, six men carrying shovels and three metal detectors were first spotted by passersby at an ancient site near the Sorek Basin, said Uzi Rotstein of the authority’s Theft Prevention Unit.
Deeming the men suspicious, the witnesses contacted the authority, which promptly dispatched the unit to observe and follow the men.
Rotstein said the suspects began ascending a tall mountain toward another protected site, where the ruins of a Byzantine church remain, which they reached at approximately 10 p.m.
“When they got there they divided into three groups of two, and each had a metal detector and shovels,” he said.
“The two that were closest to us suspected something and began to run.” Rotstein said.
When the suspects fled, the inspectors turned on their flashlights and gave chase to all six men, apprehending one from the Husan village.
“Unfortunately, it was quite dark and the area has very rugged terrain, so the other five got away,” he said.
The inspector said that during questioning, the apprehended suspect admitted they were looking for gold coins in the area, and told him his accomplices hailed from Idna village, south of the Hebron Hills.
Rotstein said the suspect has been in police custody since his apprehension and was ordered by a judge at the Jerusalem District Court to remain in custody until a another hearing on Wednesday.
Deputy Director of the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery Dr. Eitan Klein said Sunday that historic areas in the Judean Mountains have increasingly become the targets of bandits who loot the sites searching for valuable relics and gold coins.
“The Judean Mountains in general, and Sorek Basin in particular, are rich in archeological sites which illustrate the rich historical and cultural history of Israel,” said Klein.
Klein added that any ancient sites excavated without a permit from the Antiquities Authority constitutes a severe violation of law, which can result in prison sentences of up to five years.
Roststein said that while members of the Theft Prevention Unit are not police officers, they carry side arms and are sanctioned by the government to make arrests.