Antiquities Thieves Caught in the Act

YERUSHALAYIM -
The front of the cave as exposed during the excavation. (Shai Halevy, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority)
Cave at an archaeological site. (Shai Halevy, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority)

Authorities arrested in recent days a gang of antiquities thieves who were caught red-handed digging at an official archaeological site. The site, a cave that was in use during the time of the Second Beis Hamikdash at a site called Mashkena, is located near the Golani Junction in the lower Galilee. The thieves are residents of the village of Kfar Tur’an, and have been suspected of other archaeological robberies.

The gang was caught as they were digging in a burial cave where Roman-era artifacts have been discovered in the past. The gang damaged numerous graves as they dug up different parts of the cave, apparently searching for buried valuables.

According to Archaeological Authority officials, Mashkena was a Jewish village in the Bayis Sheini period, mentioned in Talmud Yerushalami as being halfway between Tzipori and Teveria. The burial cave may have contained various gold and silver objects that were used in burial rituals; such items have been found in other caves in the area, the officials said, and that may be what the thieves were looking for. Such items are currently in great demand in the international market. “For money, these thieves destroy the history of Israel and ruin its archaeological integrity,” the Authority said. “We intend to put a stop to this.”