2,000 Roman Cemetery Unearthed in Gaza with Rare Lead Sarcophaguses
Last year, a group of archaeologists excavating a 2,000-year-old Roman cemetery in Gaza made a significant discovery. They uncovered over 125 tombs, most of which still contained well-preserved skeletons, along with two rare lead sarcophaguses, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Antiquities.
Gaza, despite its current impoverished state, has a rich historical significance, serving as an essential trading post for various civilizations, including the ancient Egyptians and the Philistines mentioned in the Bible, as well as during the Roman empire and the crusades.
Previously, financial constraints had forced local archaeologists to rebury their findings, but this time, French organizations lent their support to excavate the site. The cemetery was stumbled upon by a construction crew working on a housing project funded by Egypt in February of the previous year.
"This is a groundbreaking discovery for Palestine, as it is the first time we've encountered a cemetery of this scale with 125 tombs, and the first time we've found two lead sarcophaguses in Gaza," said Fadel Al-A’utul, an expert from the French School of Biblical and Archeological Research, while speaking to Reuters at the site. The sarcophaguses were notably adorned with images of grapes and dolphins, respectively.
To preserve this valuable archaeological site and prevent history from being lost, A'utul stressed the need for funding. The hope is to turn the site into a tourist attraction and establish a museum to showcase the unearthed artifacts.
Despite the sweltering heat, a team of at least 25 engineers and technicians has been diligently working on digging, clearing dirt, and conserving the skeletons. Additionally, they've been reconstructing clay jars discovered within some of the graves.
Jamal Abu Reida, General-Director of Gaza's Antiquities Ministry, expressed his excitement over the unprecedented find, as it further solidifies the deep-rooted history of Palestinians on this land, dating back thousands of years.
It's worth noting that Gaza has been under an economic blockade by Israel and Egypt since 2007 when the Islamist group Hamas took control. Despite past efforts, peace talks to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem have faltered, with no signs of revival as of now.