Ancient lice comb recovered from the thieves
Ancient lice comb recovered from the thievesIsrael Antiquities Authority

Just a few days after their dramatic arrest amidst the Judean Desert cliffs, would-be thieves of ancient scrolls and precious archaeological artifacts were indicted this morning in a Be'er Sheva court.

Concluding a year-long Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) operation to locate such thieves, with the help of Israel Police, this was the first time in 30 years that robbers had been caught in the area.

It was in the early morning hours one day last week when a local rescue team, engaged in a training exercise, noted suspicious movements. IAA anti-theft unit inspectors were immediately notified, and they arrived at a location close to the site – a cave in the northern cliff of the Tze'elim Brook, in the Maaleh Na'mer area – with observation equipment.

The thieves caused serious damage to the site
The thieves caused serious damage to the siteIsrael Antiquities Authority

The suspects are residents of an Arab village near Hevron. They were detected digging in a cave known to archaeologists as the Cave of the Skulls, and had already caused great damage when found. They had dug deep into the ground, destroying layers of archaeological testimony dating back to the Roman period and earlier.

The approach to the cave, according to the IAA, is difficult and extremely dangerous, and the Arabs had used special equipment for the purpose. They also used two metal detectors, lighting equipment, and more, and were well-stocked with food for several days.

Among the stolen artifacts found in the possession of the suspects was a 2,000-year-old lice comb.

Ancient lice comb recovered from thieves
Ancient lice comb recovered from thievesIsrael Antiquities Authority

Amir Ganor, who heads the IAA anti-theft unit, explained, "Bands of antique-robbers have been operating in the Judean Desert cliffs for years. They try to find ancient scrolls and other unique objects left in the area during the days of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans in 66-70 C.E. and afterwards during the Bar Kokhba rebellion… which they would then sell for large sums.

"The Judean Desert's dry climate well preserves objects of leather, bone, wood [and] parchment… This is the first time in decades that we have caught them red-handed, given the difficulty in finding and catching them on the cliffs."