During the 1980s an Italian construction company was hired to install a modern irrigation system in Zoar to revitalize agriculture in the area. The workers were local Jordanian villagers. They soon encountered archaeological remains. What then happened has been described by archaeologist David F. Graf of the University of Miami:
The result is that many antiquities from Zoar/Zoora now reside in fashionable homes in Amman and Kerak. Others were illegally transported to museums and private collections in Israel, or taken as booty by employees of [the construction company] back to Milan, or sold to wealthy diplomats and businessmen in Saudi Arabia, Italy, Britain and America … The full extent of the trafficking is unknown.1
At this point, the author of our article, Konstantinos (Dino) Politis, came to the rescue, at least partially. With several others, he began, in Graf’s words, “a rather frantic campaign to record and photograph as many of the looted inscribed tombstones as he could locate. To accomplish this, Politis was forced to interact with the looters and illegal dealers, purchasing what he could …
“His ultimate goal was to create a museum at [the site] to display the results of this noble salvage enterprise.”
Graf calls Politis’s effort “heroic.” He managed to salvage 386 Greek epitaphs from the Zoar cemetery. However, Politis estimates that more than 700 inscribed stones were discovered by the looters. If so, he recovered a little more than half. In addition, he saved at least 50 Aramaic inscriptions, primarily from Jewish tombstones. The total of these inscriptions is two-and-a-half times the previously known ancient inscriptions of any kind from this area, including Petra.—H.S.