Saturday, 15 August 2009

Metal Detector user arrested in Palestine

The west Bank contains at least 2,000 major archaeological sites. The fact that the area is subdivided into a patchwork of enclaves, some controlled by Israel, some by the Palestinian Authority, and some jointly mean that there are many legal and physical obstacles which hamper the authorities’ ability to protect these sites, leaving them vulnerable to artefact-hunting looters. This looting was described in a recent (Dec 2008) National Geographic article by Karen Lange ("The Stolen Past - West Bank Looting"):
in many places the scale of the destruction is almost industrial. Looters attack ancient sites with backhoes and small bulldozers, scraping away the top layer of earth across areas the size of several football fields. Then, guided by metal detectors—coins often give away the location of other goods—they sink shafts to extract anything of value. Among the rock-hewn tombs that honeycomb the hills around Jenin, Nablus, Bethlehem, and Hebron, grave robbers methodically clean out each centuries-old chamber, dumping the bones and hauling off the limestone ossuaries. […] Some looted artifacts are bought by middlemen who supply shops in Israel, where tourists and pilgrims eager to take home a piece of the Holy Land unwittingly underwrite the trade. Other artifacts are smuggled into Jordan, then on to big-time dealers elsewhere in the Middle East, especially the Persian Gulf states of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Dealers in those countries, in turn, sell the artifacts to outlets in Israel without revealing their provenance.

Many of these items then are exported from Israel with Israeli export licences to dealers in western markets who then represent them to their clients as “legitimate” goods. They are nevertheless looted. Both dealers and clients need to ask themselves where the bucketloads of ancient coins openly being offered by some Jerusalem dealers actually come from. These bulk lots for example being sold by a Jerusalem dealer discussed on this blog earlier.

On Friday, Palestinian tourism and antiques police arrested a man from Bethlehem and seized advanced metal detecting equipment which they say was used to unearth priceless artifacts in the Bethlehem area. The machines were seized following a home raid conducted by police following long-term investigations of the accused. His file has been handed over to local prosecution, police said.

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