Thursday, March 16, 2017

Underwater looting

MARITIME ARCHAEOLOGY: Diving Robbers Are Looting Underwater Treasures, Archaeologists Wail. Robbing marine antiquities is hardly a lucrative business but fish aren't about to enforce international maritime law, leaving the authorities almost helpless to stop the thieves (Philippe Bohstrom, Haaretz).
A few years ago, the remains of a crusader-era shipwreck and a horde of gold were found underwater, in the bay of Acre, and have now been reported. If the archaeologists had tarried, they might have found little beyond ancient rotting timbers.

Diving robbers looting underwater sites are the bane of marine archaeologists. The items stolen from the sea floor, ranging from coins to amphorae to a life-sized bronze statue of Apollo to scrap metal from World War II warships, are usually sold on the black market. Worse, stopping the ravage of the ancient sites is all but impossible, the authorities admit: they can hardly post underwater guards.

The problem of maritime looting is especially acute in Israel, say experts.

Regular readers will remember the story of the Apollo of Gaza from a few years ago:
For all the digging and looting, sometimes wonderful treasures still resurface. One day in 2013, a local fisherman, Jawdat Abu Ghrab, discovered a rare bronze statue of the Greek god Apollo in the sea outside the town of Deir Al-Balah, Gaza.  
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The 1.7-meter-tall work weighed about 300 kilograms. With some help, Abu Ghrab extracted it from the water and put into his family's home, with the statue's male parts covered up. After some weeks, rumors of the statue spread and the Palestinian authorities confiscated it, promising to pay Abu Ghrab some fraction of the statue's value as compensation. 

The Palestinian Antiquities Authority for one says it's worth around $340 million, according to al-Jazeera, which could help explain why the fisherman reportedly hasn't received the promised compensation.
In any case, the statue mysteriously vanished from the public eye in April 2014, though it had been in the possession of the police. Possibly looting isn't confined to thieves.

It bears adding that some experts, including Jean-Baptiste Humbert, director of le Laboratoire d’Archéologie de l’École Biblique in Jerusalem, don't buy the story of the fisherman finding the statue in the sea near Egypt. The statue's color and excellent condition argue that it was discovered inland, underground, they say. Why would the fisherman lie? Possibly to avoid arguments of ownership or to avoid revealing that it was found while digging tunnels to nearby Egypt.
And it's possible that it's a fake. Past PaleoJudaica posts on the discovery of the Apollo of Gaza and on questions about its real provenance and even its authenticity are here, here, here, here, and here.