Beit Shemesh – The Israel Antiquities Authority discovered during a  routine security check a veritable treasure hunt. A Beit Shemesh man had stolen hundreds of ancient coins and artifacts from an archeology site last week, the organization announced Wednesday.

According to the IAA’s Robbery Prevention Unit, the unidentified man, who is in his 50s, was initially detained last Wednesday at an antiquities site in the Beit Shemesh area, when police determined he was carrying digging tools in his bag.

The suspect was taken for questioning at a nearby police station when officers contacted the IAA’s Robbery Prevention Unit, whose investigators proceeded to interrogate him.

The man denied he was searching for antiquities and claimed to know nothing about ancient coins. However, a subsequent search of his home later that evening uncovered roughly 800 bronze coins, ancient bronze objects, jewelry and metal cleaning equipment, the IAA said.

“Among the coins found in the home of the suspect identified by IAA researchers included Persian coins from the 5th century BC, and the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods,” the Robbery Prevention Unit said in a statement.

“The coins were seized and taken for evidence,” it continued.

Upon further questioning, the suspect confessed he was searching for the ancient coins using a metal detector, the IAA said.

Dr. Ethan Klein, deputy director of the Robbery Prevention Unit, said searching for coins at ancient sites is a serious criminal offense.

“Ancient coins provide archaeologists with important information from history,” Klein said. “The most comprehensive information is embedded in them, including the date, name of the ruler at the time, and place of production.”

Moreover, Klein said this valuable information provides archeologists with a glimpse of the historical events that took place in ancient times.

“Displacing ancient coins causes irreparable harm and does not allow the recovery of information, and actually erases an entire chapter of the history of the ancient site,” he said.

Klein continued: “Stealing a coin from an ancient site for financial gain compromises the opportunity to learn about the history of the people and the land.”

Following the investigation, the suspect was released under restrictive conditions, the IAA said, adding that in the coming days formal criminal charges will be brought against him.

According to the Robbery Prevention Unit, damage to an archeological site is punishable by up to five years in prison.