updated 6/2/2009 10:37:49 AM ET 2009-06-02T14:37:49

A man returned a 46-pound chunk of a medieval marble pillar he took from an archeological site in Jerusalem more than a decade ago after suffering pangs of guilt, Israeli authorities announced Tuesday.

The section of column was reported missing in 1997 from a site in Jerusalem's Old City. Last month, a Christian clergyman in New York contacted the Israeli Antiquities Authority and asked for forgiveness for the member of his congregation who had taken the stone, a statement from the IAA said.

The stone arrived this week along with a note from the man who took it, in which he explained he considered the stone as a souvenir he would use "to pray for Jerusalem."

The man, who was an archaeology student at the time, was given the heavy chunk of marble by a tour guide, he wrote, and it was only after he returned home that he realized it was likely stolen.

The IAA said it would take no legal action against the man and would not identify him.

The stone came from a columned palace built by the Umayyad dynasty, a Damascus-based Arab empire that ruled over the Middle East for nearly a hundred years until the mid-8th century.

It was the Ummayyads who built the golden-capped Dome of the Rock, one of the most recognizable sites in Jerusalem, marking the spot where Muslim tradition says Muhammad ascended to heaven.

The IAA investigates dozens of antiquities thefts every year, said Haim Shchupak of the authority's anti-theft unit. Last year another fragment taken from a site north of Jerusalem was returned in similar circumstances, though such instances are rare, he said.

"It's nice that these people's consciences bothered them. I'm glad that there are good people out there," he said.

The Antiquities Authority said the stone would be returned to the site from which it was taken, next to to the holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

More on  Archaeology Stolen artifact

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