Bedouin ‘Treasure Hunters’ Caught Red-Handed

A view of the Ramon Crater (Mitzpe Ramon), the largest of the three Negev craters. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90 )

A band of Bedouin treasure hunters was caught red-handed destroying an archaeological site in the Negev, in their search for a legendary buried treasure. The group, using heavy equipment, bulldozed through a cave that has been noted for its archaeological finds, with artifacts over 2,700 years old retrieved from the site.

Rumors of a buried treasure in an empty corner of the Negev have persisted for years, and various groups of treasure hunters have been searching for it for years. Several weeks ago, Archaeological Authority officials heard that one of the groups had been exploring in the area of Givat Goral, where several ancient caves are located. Following up on the rumors, officials toured the area, and discovered dozens of pits that had been dug, destroying priceless ancient artifacts several layers below ground.

The Authority instituted a patrol to catch the group, which, it turned out, had been responsible for damage to numerous other sites in the Negev. The culprits, who were arrested Sunday, include four individuals in their 30s, residents of the Bedouin village of Alsayad in the southern Negev. Under questioning, they told police about their activities, and indicated the location of a large number of tools and heavy digging equipment they used in their treasure searches.

Guy Fitussi, an Archaeological Authority official, said that it was “important for the public to know that there is no basis to the rumor of buried treasure in the Negev. There is no evidence for this, archaeologically or historically. Unfortunately, several sources, including self-styled historians and religious leaders, have been encouraging Bedouins to seek out the treasure, which they do, causing major damage to archaeological sites. These actions damage the cultural treasures that belong to all of us,” he added.