Imagine a young Bedouin looter exploring one of the hundreds of complicated and dangerous caves in the Judean Desert by the Dead Sea. He discovers an extraordinary ancient gold artifact with a Hebrew inscription referring to King Solomon.
One of the Israeli antiquities dealers who sees it reports it to the authorities, who quickly trace it to the young Bedouin and seize it from him. It is displayed in the Israel Museum, which has to remain open until midnight to accommodate the crowds. It is an international sensation. The New York Times sends two of its most knowledgeable reporters to write the story.
The young Bedouin looter is arrested by the authorities and tried for looting and sentenced to two years in prison. The gold inscription soon comes to be regarded as Israel’s most valuable ancient inscription.
This of course is a thoroughly fictional account. But it does bear some resemblances to a real occurrence—something that is reported in the Archaeological Views column of this very issue of BAR.
What makes me feel the need to explore the situation is the fact that the looters alert the archaeologists to the existence of the other valuable finds in the cave and get sent to jail for it, while the archaeologists learn from the looters where to dig.