JERUSALEM — Israeli authorities on Monday unveiled 11 ancient burial boxes dating to around the time of Jesus, recovered by police during a midnight raid on antiquities dealers suspected of stealing the artifacts.
The boxes include a pair of ossuaries believed to contain the remains of two noblemen who lived in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago.
Some are engraved with designs and even names, giving clues to their origin and contents. The boxes contain bone fragments and remnants of what experts say is pottery buried with the deceased.
The Israeli Antiquities Authority said the boxes were recovered last Friday, shortly after midnight, when police observed two cars parked suspiciously at a military checkpoint on the outskirts of Jerusalem. When they investigated, they found four people involved in an exchange of the boxes. Once police recovered the items, they alerted the authority.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the boxes were "stolen from a cave" near Jerusalem with the intent of being sold to collectors. He said authorities had been tracking the suspects for some time but would not elaborate. The exchange involved an Israeli and a Palestinian seller attempting to make the sale to an Israeli customer, he said.
According to Israeli antiquities law, all antiquities that are discovered are considered property of the state.
Two of the suspects remained in custody on Monday, and the others were under house arrest, according to the authority.
The boxes, known as ossuaries, are believed to date back to the Second Temple Period, a time stretching from roughly 515 B.C. to 70 A.D. that included the reign of King Herod, who built some of the most famous sites in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and the time of Jesus. Two were inscribed with names: "Yoezer" and "Ralphine."
The Antiquities Authority already has in its possession over 1,000 of these ancient boxes. Such boxes have sparked archaeological controversies in the past, but authorities said the 11 seized boxes appear to be authentic and non-controversial.