Archaeological treasures discovered on a construction site in the Gaza Strip belonged to a 2,000-year-old, Roman necropolis with the first excavations permitted the identification of about 40 tombs dating from the ancient Roman period, today, June 26.
A Palestinian worker found a part of a Roman necropolis dating from about 2,000 years ago in January as he among other workers labored on a large construction site in the Gaza Strip to be later found that it continued 10 tombs.
After the last war between Israel and Hamas in May 2021 left a trail of damage in Gaza, Egypt began a reconstruction initiative worth $500 million, which is how and where these sits were discovered.
As part of that project in Jabaliya, in the north of the Gaza Strip, bulldozers were digging up the sandy soil in order to build new concrete buildings.
Ahmad, a Palestinian who preferred his full name to be concealed, said, “I notified the Egyptian foremen, who immediately contacted local authorities and asked the workers to stop.”
Gaza’s antiquities service called in the French non-governmental group Premiere Urgence Internationale and the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem to evaluate the site’s importance and mark off the area.
French archaeologist Rene Elter, who led the team dispatched to Jabaliya said, “The first excavations permitted the identification of about 40 tombs dating from the ancient Roman period between the first and second centuries AD,”
“The necropolis is larger than these 40 tombs and should have between 80 and 100,” he said.
One of the burial sites found so far is decorated with multi-colored paintings representing crowns and garlands of bay leaves, as well as jars for funereal drinks, the archaeologist added.
Archaeology is a subject of high political sensitivity in the Palestinian, and discoveries are used to reveal the historical right of each people.
While the Jewish state has a number of archaeologists reporting on an impressive number of ancient treasures, the sector is largely neglected in Gaza.
Authorities periodically announce discoveries in the territory, but tourism at archaeological sites is limited due to the Israeli siege imposed on the coastal enclave
Since 2007, the passage of individuals into and out of the enclave has been severely constrained by Israel and Egypt, which border Gaza.
“However, there is no difference between what you can find in Gaza and on the other side of the barrier” in Israel, Elter said. “It’s the same great history.”
“In Gaza, a lot of sites have disappeared because of conflict and construction, but the territory is an immense archaeological site which needs many teams of experts,” he added.
Stakes and fences have been erected around the Roman necropolis, which is watched over constantly by guards as new buildings go up nearby.
“We are trying to fight antiquities trafficking,” said Jamal Abu Rida, director of the local archaeological service tasked with protecting the necropolis and which hopes to find investors for further excavation.
Since the start of 15 year-ago siege, Gaza has endured four attacks and numerous escalations of Israeli raids.
“The image of Gaza is often associated with violence, but its history is bursting with archaeological treasures that need to be protected for future generations,” said Jihad Abu Hassan, director of the local Premiere Urgence mission.
Gaza is a tiny, overcrowded strip of land whose population in 15 years has ballooned from 1.4 million to 2.3 million. As a result, building construction has accelerated.
“Some people avoid telling authorities if there is an archaeological discovery on a construction site out of fear of not being compensated” for the resulting work stoppage, Abu Hassan said.
“We lose archaeological sites every day,” which shows the need for a strategy to defend the enclave’s heritage, including training local archaeologists, he said.
His organization has assisted in the education of 84 archaeological technicians during the past few years. In a place of extreme poverty where the unemployment rate for young people is over 60%, doing so also provides work opportunities.
The Gazan hope is that all the archaeological sites of Gaza become “accessible to the public” to show the Palestinian history and culture to the entire world.”
and that all their arcological sights be seen as they are, a proof of a rooted Palestinian existence in the land.