If you’ve ever searched your child’s hair looking for the visit of unwanted little critters, it seems you’re in good company.
The arrest of six Palestinian men accused of stealing ancient artifacts in the Judean Desert suggests parents 2,000 years ago were also worried about the scourge of head lice.
The Israeli Antiquities Authority announced that the men were charged Sunday following an investigation into what it described as a complex operation to extract Dead Sea Scroll-era artifacts from a cave on the side of a cliff 500-feet from ground level which is “extremely dangerous” to access.
Among the items found was this 2,000-year-old lice comb from the Roman period.
The 2,000-year-old lice comb Israeli antiquities officials say the suspects took from a Judean Desert cave. (Image source: Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, Israel Antiquities Authority)
In a statement, the Antiquities Authority said that the suspects would climb to the top of the cliff in the evening carrying excavation tools, metal detectors, lighting, ropes and food and water for several days.
But last week, antiquities inspectors were waiting for them at the top of the cliff where they were arrested.
In Israel, taking ancient artifacts – which are considered national heritage items - without permission is illegal and can carry a five year prison sentence, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Israeli archaeological officials reported other dramatic details on the case, including the name of the ancient cave, “The Cave of the Skulls,” and how it's accessible only by foot “via a narrow goat’s path on top of rock fall, that passes upright bedrock walls and is extremely dangerous.”
“They caused tremendous damage in the cave by digging through layers of earth while destroying archaeological strata and historical evidence from the Roman period c. 2,000 years ago and the Chalcolithic period c. 5,000 years ago,” the Antiquities Authority said.
Amir Ganor, director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery in the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement that for years, people have been searching the Judean Desert cliffs for “Dead Sea scrolls, pieces of ancient texts and unique artifacts that were left in the caves, particularly during the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66–70 CE and the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 132–135 CE, when Jewish fighters fearing the Roman army sought refuge in the desert.”
Ganor said that such artifacts can draw “large sums of money” in Israel and internationally.
“What makes the Judean Desert so unique is its dry climate that enable the preservation of rare leather, bone, and wooden objects, including the Judean Desert scrolls, pieces of parchment and papyrus, on which various texts were written, among them the Holy Scriptures, books of the Bible, legal contracts and historical stories,” Ganor said.
“Over the years many of the plundered finds reached the antiquities markets in Israel and abroad, but it has been decades since perpetrators were caught red-handed. This is mainly due to the difficultly in detecting and catching them on the wild desert cliffs,” he added.
The suspects were all from the Palestinian village of Sair near Hebron, the government agency said.