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January 6, 2023

The US United States of America has hands over a rare artefact to Palestine


For the first time, the United States of America has handed over a rare artefact that was smuggled from the ruins of the Com in Hebron into the United States.  Carved from ivory, this object dates to circa 800-700 BCE and features an engraving of a winged creature.

This artefact is one of the 180 seized antiquities, valued at $70 Million purchased by Michael Steinhardt which were trafficked by a total of 12 different criminal smuggling networks. 

As the result of the District Attorney of New York - Manhattan investigations compelling evidence demonstrated that this, and other pieces were stolen from their country of origin, none of which had any specific provenance that could be verified by the collector or the DA's investigative team.

According to an invoice, Steinhardt purchased this ancient artefact on 21 January 2003 with no prior provenance for $6,000 from (then) licensed Israeli dealer Gil Chaya. While Chaya had listed his dealer’s license on his invoice to Steinhardt, the artefact was never registered (as required by Israeli law) with the Israeli Antuities authorities. 

Evidence as to its origins is documented in an email sent to Michael Steinhardt’s then-Collection Manager by Gil Chaya's then-wife Lisa, which stated:

“Cosmetic Spoon is from the Hebron area, a place called El Kom, this is the area of the richest Iron age Jewish tombs (many royal).” 

Map of the Hebron district

If Chaya's statement is to be believed, this artefact may come from Khirbet el-Qom, (خربة الكوم), an archaeological site in the village of al-Kum, between Lachish and Hebron.  The Hebron district (al-Khalil) itself is located 30 km south of Jerusalem where Chaya sold pieces he sourced illegally. Hebron is the largest governorate in the Palestinian territories, not only in terms of size and population (PCBS, 2009: 55-60), but also in its richness of cultural and natural heritage and is noted for being one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas in the world, sacred to the three monotheistic religions.