GAZA (Reuters) – A 2,000-year-old Roman cemetery containing at least 20 richly decorated tombs has been discovered near the coastline in the northern Gaza Strip, with the Antiquities Ministry calling it the most significant local find in the last decade.
Gaza is rich in antiquities having been an important place of trade for many civilizations, from the ancient Egyptians and Philistines depicted in the Bible, to the Roman Empire and the Crusades.
The ruins discovered there include the remains of a siege by Alexander the Great as well as a Mongol invasion.
Twenty Roman tombs have been located so far and the team expects to dig up 80 in total in the 50 square meter cemetery. Only two graves were opened, one contained skeletal remains and clay jars.
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Due to the tombs’ shape and relatively ornate decorations, they likely belonged to “high-ranking people” in the Roman Empire during the first century, said Jamal Abu Rida, director general of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. from Gaza.
Unlike Muslim tombs of later periods which are oriented north to south, Roman tombs run east to west, he said.
“We have made several discoveries in the past, this is the most important archaeological discovery in the last 10 years,” Abu Rida said.
The area is closed to journalists and the public while the site is organized and secure for visitors, the ministry said.
The site, which is overseen by a team of French experts, was found by a construction crew working on an Egyptian-funded housing project. When they came across some of the large old bricks in the cemetery, they stopped work and called in the archaeologists.
Gaza is ruled by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which has fought four wars with Israel since 2008.
The conflict has crippled the local economy, and authorities usually hire international groups to help excavate and preserve archaeological finds, Abu Rida said.
(Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Alison Williams)
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