More antiquities arrests in the north

 POLICE in the north appear to have uncovered a ring of antiquities smugglers following new reports yesterday of three more arrests on top of another nine earlier in the week.

Quoting Turkish Cypriot press reports, state television CyBC yesterday said three people had been arrested after being found with a 145-year-old church bell.

CyBC also referred to the theft of a bible from the monastery of Apostolos Varnavas [St Barnabas].

The book’s value was in the region of €1.5 million, the report said.

It was not immediately clear whether the bible referred to was the one seized in Famagusta more than a week ago for which nine people were arrested.

The Cyprus Church has made no comment on the seizure of a bible or whether or not anything matching its description had once belonged to, or was stolen from any church building in the occupied areas.

According to a Reuters report on Friday further investigations into the bible-theft case had also turned up a prayer statue and a stone carving of Jesus, as well as dynamite.

Turkish Cypriot police have charged the detainees with smuggling antiquities, illegal excavations and the possession of explosives.

Turkish press reports yesterday said nine people had been released on bail.

The bible seized earlier in the week, which is written in the Syriac language was said to be 2,000 years old and worth around €2 million.

Reuters said experts were debating how old it actually was, and whether it was priceless or a fake.

Some said the use of gold lettering on the manuscript was likely to date it later than 2,000 years.

“I’d suspect that it is most likely to be less than 1,000 years old,” leading expert Peter Williams, Warden of Tyndale House, University of Cambridge told the news agency.

“One very likely source (of the manuscript) could be the Tur-Abdin area of Turkey, where there is still a Syriac speaking community,” Charlotte Roueche, Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies at King’s College London said.

After further scrutiny of photographs of the book, manuscripts specialist at the University of Cambridge library and Fellow of Wolfson College JF Coakley suggested that the book could have been written a good deal later.

“The Syriac writing seems to be in the East Syriac script with vowel points, and you do not find such manuscripts before about the 15th century.

“On the basis of the one photo…if I’m not mistaken some words at least seem to be in modern Syriac, a language that was not written down until the mid-19th century,” he told Reuters.