Ballista stones from the City of David
Ballista stones from the City of DavidKobi Harati, courtesy of the City of David Archives

Fifteen years after he took the ballista stone (a catapult “bolt”) without permission from the archaeological site of the Jerusalem Walls National Park in the City of David, an anonymous citizen decided this weekend to return the 2000 year old find to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

This, as he says, in the backdrop of the coronavirus crisis, and the feeling that “the end of the world is near.”

The Israel Antiquities Authority heard about the repentance of this anonymous person via a post on Facebook by Moshe Manies, the person who took upon himself to be the go-between, to return the stone to the State Treasury without divulging the identity of the thief.

“It involved two ‘shababniks’ (rebellious youth), who, 15 years earlier, toured at the City of David site and came across a display of ballista stones, which were catapulted at fortifications,” tells Manies. “One of the boys took one of the stones home. Meanwhile, he married and raised a family, and told me that for the past 15 years the stone has been weighing heavily on his heart.”

“And now, when he came across it while cleaning for Passover, together with the apocalyptic feeling the coronavirus generated, he felt the time was ripe to clear his conscience, and he asked me to help him return it to the Israel Antiquities Authority.”

According to Uzi Rotstein, Inspector at the Antiquities Robbery Prevention Unit at the Israel Antiquities Authority, who was tagged by a follower of the post and arrived immediately to collect the stone: “Disconnecting an artifact from its archaeological framework by its removal negatively impacts the research and the ability to piece together its historical puzzle. We commend the return of the artifact and appeal to anyone who has taken an archaeological artifact, to take a weight off their heart and return it to the State Treasury. These artifacts, which are thousands of years old, are our national treasure. They tell the story of the Land and of who resided here before us, and should be documented and displayed.”

According to Dr. Yuval Baruch, Jerusalem Region Archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority: “Ballistae were ancient weapons, which were used to hurl stones like the one returned at the top of the fortress walls in order to distance the protectors of the city, who stood at the top.”

“The ballista stones which were uncovered at the City of David are most likely connected to the harsh battles between the besieged residents of Jerusalem and the soldiers of the Roman Legion, from around 70 CE – the year of the destruction of Jerusalem. Additional stones of this type have been uncovered in Jerusalem, at, among other places, the area of the Russian Compound near the estimated path of the Third Wall, which was the external wall of Jerusalem during the time of the Second Temple. In the excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority there, a battlefield was uncovered, with tens of ballista stones scattered on the ground.”

The ballista stone which was uncovered
The ballista stone which was uncoveredUzi Rotstein, Israel Antiquities Authority
Ballista stones from the City of David
Ballista stones from the City of DavidClara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

Illustration of the ballista machine
Illustration of the ballista machineShalom Kveller, courtesy of the City of David Archives