Israeli authorities have recovered what appears to be a rare 2,000-year-old papyrus document they believe was initially dug up in an illegal excavation, an antiquities specialist said.


Two Palestinians found in possession of the document were detained on Tuesday and police are looking for “a team of looters” thought to be working with them, said Amir Ganor, who heads the Israel Antiquities Authority\’s robbery prevention unit.

“We think it was stolen from an illegal excavation,” he said, adding that authorities are still trying to determine exactly where the papyrus was found.

The document is in ancient Hebrew script in a style of writing mainly known from the Dead Sea Scrolls and from inscriptions in ossuaries and coffins.

The upper line of the text reads: “Year 4 to the destruction of Israel,” the antiquities authority said.

This could mean the year 74 AD if the author refers to the year Jerusalem\’s Second Temple was destroyed, or the year 139 if he means the destruction of the rural settlements of Judah at the end of the Bar Kokhba revolt, it said.

Several names are mentioned in the document as well as legal wording that deals with the property of a widow.

The document will undergo laboratory analyses to ensure it is not a forgery, Ganor said.

“The document is very important from the standpoint of historical and national research. Until now almost no historic scrolls or documents from this period have been discovered in proper archaeological excavations.”

“What we have here is rare historic evidence about the Jewish people in their country from 2,000 years ago,” said Ganor.