By Mara Vigevani

Finds Gone Astray, an exhibition of archaeological material retrieved from thieves and unauthorized antiquities dealers in Judea and Samaria went on display December 30 at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem.

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The exhibition is the result of the cooperation between the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem and the Israel Staff Officer of archaeology in the Civil Administration Unit that works to preserve Judea and Samaria antiquities while minimizing their damage and theft.

During their work of registration and preservation of the confiscated archeological pieces, the unit noticed that some of the findings are particularly interesting and decided they should be displayed to the public and to the researchers.

In 2013  the Unit and the Bible Lands Museum decided to choose the most interesting findings among the 40 thousand artifacts found between 1968 and the present day and put them on display.

Along with the exhibition, the Unit also worked on the first volume in a new series of publications cataloging 134 artifacts that went through a laborious process of documentation, photography, registration, laboratory cleaning, preservation, restoration and scientific testing to determine the age and origin of each item, and preserve their scientific value for generations to come.

The catalog was released together with the opening of the exhibition.

The entire collection of confiscated items includes  pottery and stone vessels, figurines, clay tablets bearing inscriptions, coins, incantation bowls and more, constituting an assemblage of great importance to the understanding of the history of the ancient Near East.

Some of the finds originated from other parts of the Middle East and were smuggled into the region, while others were illegally excavated using tools and methods, often causing irreversible damage to archaeological sites of enormous local historical significance. Hours of intensive detective work including patient surveillance, carefully-planned ambushes, and nightly observations led to successfully intercepting the thieves and retrieving these priceless artifacts.

For Amanda Weiss, Director of the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem, the importance and uniqueness of the exhibition is not only to shed light on another part of the history of the region  but also to create public awareness of the importance of protecting archaeological sites

“The primary goal of the Museum is to present the vital history of our region, the crossroads of the ancient world, through innovative exhibitions and programming,” Weiss said.

“Finds Gone Astray is a unique opportunity to shed light on the importance of preserving the history of our region and protecting our ancient sites. We welcome this partnership with the Civil Administration Officer of the Archaeological Staff Unit, and are proud to host the exhibition and launch of the publication to help increase public awareness to the jeopardy in which our heritage is in these objects are witnesses to history and link the generations in the universal story of the development of humankind.”

Hananya Hezmi , Head Staff Officer of Archaeology Department of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria said that his unit spends most of the time dealing with the enforcement and the consequences of looting and smuggling archaeological antiquities, rather than developing new sites and overseeing excavations.

“Theft and destruction of antiquities is a widespread phenomenon that crosses borders for a range of reasons. In Judea and Samaria specifically, there is rampant destruction of ancient sites caused by preparations for cultivating or building on the land,” Hezmi said.

“The methods used by the antiquities looters to uncover and expose the findings are brutal, causing irreversible damage to both sites and the findings and clearly harming academic research. We will continue to do everything in our power and invest the necessary resources in order to stop the damage to our shared culture and history.”

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