Palestinian laborers working on an Egyptian-funded housing project for Gaza residents stumbled upon an unusual find under the Gaza Strip last year – and it was not one of Hamas' tunnels: dozens of ancient tombs, including two lead sarcophagi from the Roman period. We used ChatGPT to tell us about the largest cemetery ever discovered in Gaza, covering an area of about 2,700 square meters.
The cemetery was discovered, as stated, during work on a site surrounded by fairly ordinary apartment buildings, near Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip. At first they found a number of graves, by January of this year the number had risen to 60, and now, after intensive discovery work, it already stands at 135 – a real goldmine for archaeologists.
As is well known, the Gaza Strip has a long history, thanks to its strategic location along ancient trade routes connecting Egypt and the Levant. In recent years, this history has been at high risk of destruction due to Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip, the repeated battles against Israel, and rapid urban expansion.
French archaeologist René Alter, who is now leading the excavation, explained that researchers examined the tombs meticulously, and each provided invaluable insights into the cultural artifacts and health of the population that inhabited the area some 2,000 years ago. The lead sarcophagi are, he says, a particularly rare find – one has intricate decorations of vine leaves, and the other bears pictures of dolphins. These lead tombs are an unprecedented discovery in Gaza, and archaeologists believe they may contain the remains of social elites.
Beyond the two rare sarcophagi, Alter's team is working on rehabilitating the skeletons uncovered at the site and reconstructing fragments of pottery urns, shedding light on the customs and daily life of the ancient inhabitants of Gaza. Some of the artifacts will be transferred to Europe for restoration work, and then returned to the city under the supervision of Hamas' Ministry of Antiquities.
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