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Gaza, the archeological legacy of a land that hosted many civilizations

Gaza, Jul 7 (EFE).- Gaza today is a small enclave stuck in a seemingly never-ending conflict with Israel and a choking blockade that has forced the Mediterranean Strip into poverty and devastation.

But Gaza’s history was not always about conflict. This narrow strip of land was once a thriving crossroads for several civilizations that left an archeological footprint in the area, evidence of which often emerges by chance.

In February, bulldozers began digging in Jabalia town for the reconstruction of buildings as part of an Egypt-financed project to rebuild the strip after the brutal 11-day war with Israel in May 2021.

But construction was suddenly forced to stop after workers came across a 2,000-year-old cemetery.

They had discovered at least 20 graves that were part of a Roman-era burial ground near the beach, a discovery that turned out to be “the most important” of the last decade, Jamal Abu Rida, the general director of Gaza’s ministry of antiquities, explains to Efe.

Abu Rida says it could provide much more information on the presence of the Romans in the enclave.

Archaeological investigations are currently underway but it is estimated that the 50-square-meter site could contain up to 80 tombs belonging to high-ranking figures from the Roman Empire.

Two tombs have been opened so far, one of them had bone and ceramic remains, and their ostentatious shape indicates that members of that time’s upper class were buried there.

Gaza was in the past a significant Mediterranean commercial epicenter that hosted diverse empires and cultures.

It witnessed the rise and fall of civilizations from the Philistines and the Canaanites, to the Pharaohs of Egypt, the Greco-Hellenistic Empire, the Romans, the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic Caliphate.

Gazan archaeologist Hiyam al-Bitar says that Gaza is “a great archaeological site full of cities, walls, forts and artifacts” underground, but issues such as the conflict with Israel, and the precariousness resulting from the blockade and the bad economic situation have led to a lack of archaeological resources.

Local authorities launched a few initiatives to excavate, restore and protect archaeological sites. At least 45 sites are known to exist in Gaza including remains of mosques, churches, palaces, tombs, markets, and structures dating back to prehistoric times.

The ability to promote archaeological projects is very limited “whether due to lack of financial support or problems related to the Israeli occupation,” al Bitar points out.

However, the deep historical legacy sometimes leads to archaeological finds made by chance by the population itself, such as the Roman cemetery found in Jabalia, and the Palestinian farmer who found a statue of the Canaanite goddess Anat in April.

The statue of the goddess of beauty, love and war carved in limestone is about 4,500 years old and is 22 meters high.

At the beginning of the year, local authorities also inaugurated a reformed Byzantine church from about 1,700 years ago in the northern part of the enclave which has become a public museum.

The strip “has always been a corridor for merchants and kings of the world,” Jawdat al-Khodari, a Gazan businessman who buys old houses from the Mamluk and Ottoman eras to renovate before turning them into museums, tells Efe.

The preservation of historical identity goes beyond the institutions, and despite Gaza’s difficulties, it is a duty that falls “on everyone”, says al-Khodari.EFE


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