WELL GUILTY: Looters Caught Red-Handed Digging Up Ancient Well For Treasure

This is the moment when officials in Israel busted three looters digging for treasure in an ancient Ottoman well.

Photo shows the moment when three looters were caught while they were excavating and destroying historical layers in an Ottoman well next to the cemetery of the Bedouin city of Rahat in Negev, Israel, undated photo. The robbers are suspected of searching for a hidden treasure, which, according to a Bedouin myth, was buried in the well, inside a cave. (Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquity Authority Robbery Prevention Unit/Newsflash)

Inspectors from Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit caught the robbers red-handed as they dug up the archaeological site.

They are believed to have been searching for hidden treasure the well is said to contain, as revealed in a centuries-old Bedouin myth.

IAA said the men, in their twenties, destroyed historical layers in the well, which dates to the Ottoman Period (1517-1917).

Officials found that one of the looters had been convicted of a similar offence in 2020.

Photo shows the outside of an Ottoman well next to the cemetery of the Bedouin city of Rahat in Negev, Israel where three looters were caught while they were excavating and destroying historical layers, undated photo. The robbers are suspected of searching for a hidden treasure, which, according to a Bedouin myth, was buried in the well, inside a cave. (Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquity Authority Robbery Prevention Unit/Newsflash)

IAA highlighted that damaging an archaeological site is punishable by up to five years in prison under Israeli law.

In a statement obtained by Newsflash, IAA said: “Last Tuesday [14th November], the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit in the Israel Antiquities Authority caught a team of three antiquity robbers ‘on the job’, while they were excavating and destroying historical layers in an Ottoman well, next to the Rahat cemetery. The team are suspected of searching for a hidden treasure, which, according to a Bedouin myth, was buried in the well, located in the cave.

“The archaeological site of Horvat Maaravim, near Rahat, where there are ancient remains from the Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic, and Ottoman period, was being watched by the Israel Antiquities Authority. On Tuesday, in the early evening, suspicious figures were seen approaching the site, and entering the cave covering over the rock-hewn water well, located on the southern side of the site.

“The Israel Antiquities Authority Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit inspectors hurried to the site, and reached the cave entrance without being spotted, catching the robbers in the act of digging up the archaeological site.

“The suspects, in their twenties, were arrested – with the assistance of Border Patrol Police and the security staff of the Rahat municipality – and they were taken for questioning during the night.

Photo shows the inside of an Ottoman well next to the cemetery of the Bedouin city of Rahat in Negev, Israel where three looters were caught while they were excavating and destroying historical layers, undated photo. The robbers are suspected of searching for a hidden treasure, which, according to a Bedouin myth, was buried in the well, inside a cave. (Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquity Authority Robbery Prevention Unit/Newsflash)

“One of the looters was arrested in the past and charged for a similar offense in 2020, when he received a punishment on probation, of half a year imprisonment and a fine of 30,000 shekels [GBP 7,280].”

Israel Antiquities Authority Director Eli Escusido said: “After the summer heat, we witness an increase in antiquity robbing activities. The Israel Antiquities Authority is busy combatting the phenomenon of antiquity theft day and night.

“The looters are motivated by money greed, and they rip the finds from their archaeological context, thus damaging the country’s heritage.”

According to Amir Ganor, Director of the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit in the Israel Antiquities Authority: “It must be absolutely clear to the public that rumors of hidden treasures have no archaeological or historical basis. No treasure has been discovered to date, but irreparable damage has been done to the archaeological sites, undermining the possibility to reconstruct the history of all the peoples of this country.”

Photo shows the historical artefacts in an Ottoman well next to the cemetery of the Bedouin city of Rahat in Negev, Israel destroyed by three looters who were caught while they were excavating, undated photo. The robbers are suspected of searching for a hidden treasure, which, according to a Bedouin myth, was buried in the well, inside a cave. (Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquity Authority Robbery Prevention Unit/Newsflash)

The statement continued: “The Israel Antiquities Authority communicated that damaging an archaeological site is a grave criminal offense, for which the punishment by law is up to five years’ imprisonment.”

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