Sat., January 01, 2005 Tevet 20, 5765
Five indicted for massive antiquities scam
By Amiram Barkat
Last Update: 31/12/2004 16:21
The forged treasures include an ivory pomegranate touted by scholars as the
only relic from Solomon's Temple, an ossuary that reputedly held the bones
of James, Jesus' brother, and the "Yehoash inscription."
"During the last 20 years many archaeological items were sold, or an
attempt was made to sell them, in Israel and in the world, that were not
actually antiques," the indictment said. "These items, many of them of
great scientific, religious, sentimental, political and economic value,
were created specifically with intent to defraud."
The forgers not only defrauded buyers of millions of dollars, said Israel
Antiquities Authority officials, but also damaged the science of
archaeology, casting doubt on the authenticity of every artifact not
uncovered in an authorized dig.
The 27-page indictment, based on a two-year investigation, charged five
people - Oded Golan, Robert Deutsch, Shlomo Cohen, a fourth Israeli whose
name cannot be published, since he has not yet received a copy of the
indictment, and Faiz al-Amaleh, a Palestinian - with 18 counts including
forgery, receiving fraudulent goods and damaging antiquities.
Golan, an Israeli collector whom the indictment termed the ringleader of
the group, denied the accusations as a campaign of lies and rumors spread
by Israel's archaeological authorities to destroy the local antiquities
trade. "There is not one grain of truth in the fantastic allegations
related to me," he said in a statement.
According to the indictment, the ring took genuine artifacts and added
inscriptions to them, falsely increasing their importance and greatly
inflating their value. After forging the inscriptions, they would paint the
items with a coating designed to emulate the patina that would accumulate
on the object over thousands of years.
The work was so sophisticated that it fooled top antiquities experts, and
some of the fake artifacts sold for huge sums.
"We only discovered the tip of the iceberg," said Antiquities Authority
head Shuka Dorfman. "This spans the globe. It generated millions of dollars."
Shaul Naim, the top police investigator on the case, said, "We have reason
to believe that many more forged antiquities which we haven't uncovered yet
are being held by private collectors in Israel and abroad, and in museums
in Israel and abroad."
Among the other objects that police tagged as forgeries were two of Golan's
possessions, the James ossuary and the "Yehoash inscription," a
shoebox-sized tablet from about the ninth century B.C.E. inscribed with 15
lines of ancient Hebrew that echo the Biblical account of King Yehoash's
repairs to the Temple in Jerusalem.
The ossuary, with the words "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," had
been touted as a major archaeological discovery - the oldest physical link
to Jesus. Antiquities Authority experts said last year that while the
ossuary, a 2,000-year-old limestone box, was indeed ancient, parts of the
inscription were added recently. Other experts, however, have disputed this
Five people were charged in Jerusalem District Court this week with running
a sophisticated antiquities forgery ring that created hundreds of fake
biblical artifacts, including some that were hailed as among the most
important archaeological objects ever uncovered in the region.