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Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA)

Established in 1999, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) is an independent Israeli governmental body that holds jurisdiction over the regulation of archaeological excavation, conservation and the promotion of research.

Prior to 1990, the IAA was known as the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums (IDAM) and was a branch of the Ministry of Education. It was founded on July 26, 1948, during the establishment of the Israeli state. The IDAM’s responsibilities included the curation, storage and registration of artifacts, as well as jurisdiction over archaeological excavations, which often involved salvage archaeology. The current IAA maintains these responsibilities, and also issues reports based on archaeological analysis in order to verify the authenticity of archaeological findings.

The IAA was created from the IDAM in 1999 by the IDAM’s last director, Amir Driori, who became the IAA’s first director. The inception of the IAA signaled a period of expansion of the organization’s archaeological functions.

One of the main responsibilities of the Israel Antiquities Authority is to enforce the 1978 law known as the Antiquities Law. This law, which is sometimes called the “dry bones law” stated that a distinction needs to be made with regard to the excavation of human and non-human remains. This law resulted in it being illegal to excavate areas that were known to be burial sites, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

In addition, the 1978 Antiquities Law instituted the fact that all materials excavated during an archaeological dig are the property of the State of Israel. This law, furthermore, limited archaeological excavations in the Israeli state, so that they may only be granted to teams of professional and experienced archaeologists that are working on behalf of a recognized institution.

The law of 1978 was also an important cornerstone in controlling the illegal antiquities market, which has been known to sell artifacts uncovered during archaeological excavations for an often extremely wide profit margin. As such, the law promulgated that it was illegal for archaeologists and researchers working legally on digs to provide artifacts to antiquities dealers. This law reflects the commitment of the Israel Antiquities Authority to combating the robbery of artifacts from excavation sites, as well as from museums, an event that is quite common. The robbery of artifacts often damages archaeological sties, thereby hindering archaeological discovery and research.

Legislation passed by the state of Israel in 1994 built upon the Antiquities Law, stating that remains uncovered during archaeological excavations could only be transported to the laboratory for further analysis and research, as well as testing, in instances in which it was impossible to discern whether the remains were human or non-human. This law, passed by the Israel Antiquities Authority, encompassed all gravesites found within the State of Israel. If the remains were found to be that of humans, they were to be promptly given over the to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, so as to respect Jewish views with regard to bone recovery.

In addition, the IAA publishes an annual internal report in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act of Israel. This report outlines the principle excavations carried out by the IAA during the year, including the place where the excavations occurred and the findings uncovered, as well as lists IAA activities, such as scientific reports, and financial information, including annual expenses and scholarship and other types of funding.

The current Director-General of the IAA is Shuka Dorfmann; the offices of the IAA are located within the Rockefeller Museum, located in East Jerusalem.

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