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Largest Ancient Cemetery Ever Uncovered in Gaza

A view of Gaza
In Gaza, archaeologists have discovered the largest Roman-era cemetery. Largest ancient cemetery ever in Gaza. Credit: wikimedia commons / David Berkowitz cc by 2.0

The largest ancient cemetery from the time of ancient Rome has been found by workers in Gaza. It contains many graves, and archaeologists have uncovered certain valuable items, such as two heavy coffins made of lead. These treasures are about two thousand years old, making this discovery the biggest one of its kind ever made in Gaza.

Discovery of the site of the ancient cemetery in Gaza

Last year, in 2022, while working on a housing project funded by Egypt in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, the workers unexpectedly came across this site. Over the past year, with guidance from French experts, the construction crews have dug up an area spanning 2,700  square meters.

What initially seemed like a regular construction site has now turned into a treasure trove for history enthusiasts keen on learning more about this place.

Significance of Gaza history

Gaza has a significant history due to its location along ancient trade routes connecting Egypt and The Levant.

In recent years, various factors have posed threats to the preservation of the area’s historical heritage.

After uncovering sixty graves in January 2023, researchers have now identified an additional seventy-five graves. Many of these graves have been carefully examined by scholars and experts.

Rene Elter, a French archaeologist in charge of the excavation, stated, “All of these tombs have almost already been excavated and have revealed a huge amount of information about the cultural material and also about the state of health of the population and the pathologies from which this population may have suffered.”

Elter, who leads the archaeology team for Intiqal, a program overseen by the non-profit organization Premiere Urgence Internationale, enthusiastically remarked, “The discovery of lead sarcophagi here is a first for Gaza.”

Burial place for social elites

Palestinian archaeologists, including Fadel Al-Otul, hold the belief that the presence of these rare lead tombs at the site suggests that it may have been a burial place for social elites.

Al-Otul explained that the cemetery likely used to be situated within a city, following the Roman practice of placing cemeteries close to city centers. Alongside the sarcophagi, Elter’s team is also engaged in the restoration of skeletons and the assembly of fragments from clay jars.

Al-Otul mentioned that the skeletons will undergo further analysis, and once the examination is complete, the remains will be returned to the Ministry of Antiquities and Tourism, which is under the leadership of Hamas.

Elter concluded, “The people of Gaza deserve to share their stories. Gaza has many potential archaeological sites, but keeping a watchful eye on each one, especially considering the rapid pace of development, is a considerable challenge.”

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