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December 15, 2021 4:58 pm
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In Jerusalem Traffic Stop, Police Discover Bronze Artifacts Taken by Bar Kochba Rebels From Roman Soldiers

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

A Roman-era bronze jug for serving wine. Photo: Yoli Schwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority

Israel has seized ancient artifacts believed to be war spoils captured from Roman soldiers by Jewish fighters during the Bar Kochba revolt nearly 2,000 years ago.

The archaeological finds were discovered last week in the car trunk of a vehicle stopped by police in Jerusalem’s Musrara neighborhood after driving in the wrong direction up a one-way street.

Experts at the Israel Antiquities Authority believe that the items were looted from a hidden complex in the Judean foothills that served as a refuge during the Bar Kochba revolt in 132-136 CE.

Among the discoveries were two ornate, 2,000-year-old bronze censers used to burn ritual incense, which likely belonged to affluent Roman houses and temples. A bronze jug with a depiction of a Roman banqueting scene showing a reclining figure holding a jug of wine was also recovered. Other illicit finds include an ornate stone tripod bowl, Roman clay lamps, and hundreds of coins dating from the late Roman period.

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Bronze artifacts are relatively rare finds in Israel as the metal was an expensive commodity, often melted down for reuse. Ancient bronze recoveries are usually discovered at archaeological sites where they were deliberately hidden, or in hiding complexes after battle during the Bar Kochba revolt, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“These ancient finds embody the country’s history, but for robbers and dealers they are merely a commodity, sold to the highest bidder for pure greed. It is tremendously important to prevent any attempts to deal in illegal antiquities, to recover valuable finds and to return them to the public and the State,” said Eli Eskozido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, on Wednesday.

Following the incident, the Israel Antiquities Authority launched a criminal investigation against the three suspects in the vehicle. According to the investigation, the artifacts were allegedly brought to Jerusalem to sell them to an antiquities dealer.

“When legal proceedings against the suspects are complete, the Israel Antiquities Authority will ask the court to confiscate the finds and hand them to us for conservation and further research,” Eskozido stated.

Israeli authorities believe that the items were taken from a Bar Kochba hiding complex near the Tarqumiya border crossing that has been under surveillance in recent months after illegal archaeological excavations at the site were reported, which prompted an operation to find the suspects.

“Unfortunately, the robbers managed to escape. When they fled, they left behind ancient finds that are similar to those now recovered in the suspects’ possession. We believe that the finds that were recently recovered in Jerusalem were taken from this site,” said Amir Ganor, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Robbery Prevention Unit.

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