Amos Cohen, an employee of the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures in Beersheva, could not believe his eyes last week when he opened a bag left in the museum’s courtyard.

Inside were two sling stones along with a typed note that read, “These are two Roman ballista balls from Gamla, from a residential quarter at the foot of the summit. I stole them in July 1995 and since then they have brought me nothing but trouble. Please, do not steal antiquities!”

The museum director, Dalia Manor, immediately reported the anonymous “gift” to the Israel Antiquities Authority, and soon these stones will join other ballista balls from Gamla that are housed in the National Treasures Department. Many other stones such as these are displayed in the Gamla Nature Reserve in the Golan Heights.

The ballista balls and the accompanying note left at the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures. Photo by Dalia Manor
The ballista balls and the accompanying note left at the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures. Photo by Dalia Manor

“Almost 2,000 such stones were found during the archaeological excavations in the Gamla Nature Reserve, and this is the site where there is the largest number of ballista stones from the Early Roman period,” said Danny Syon the Israel Antiquities Authority, who excavated at Gamla for many years.

“The Romans shot these stones at the defenders of the city in order to keep them away from the wall, and in that way they could approach the wall and break it with a battering ram. The stones were manually chiseled on site by soldiers or prisoners.”

This is not the first time that remorseful thieves have returned national treasures in their illegal possession.

According to the Antiquities Authority’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, some of the artifacts returned are a 2,000-year-old Jewish coffin that had been kept in the bedroom of a Tel Aviv resident until he realized what it was; and a Jerusalem stone taken by a Christian tourist from New York and returned to Israel through his pastor a decade later.