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Gaza bulldozers uncover Roman-era burial site; some antiquities carted off

Bulldozers digging for an Egyptian-funded housing project in the Gaza Strip have unearthed the ruins of a tomb dating back to the Roman era, Hamas authorities say.

The Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Archaeology says its crews seized objects uncovered in the tomb and asked for construction work to be stopped. An independent archaeologist said, however, that photos he saw suggest the site was a cemetery, rather than a tomb.

Local media reports say people, some of them using donkey-drawn carts, have looted many artifacts from the site in northwest Gaza City. Residents in the area say archaeological objects including casket covers and inscribed bricks were found a week before the ministry’s announcement.

Palestinian boys play in an ancient cemetery reportedly dating back to the Roman-era which was unearthed during construction work in Gaza City on January 31, 2022. (Mahmud HAMS / AFP)

Gaza, a coastal enclave home to more than 2 million people, is known for its rich history stemming from its location on ancient trade routes between Egypt and the Levant. But Israeli occupation, a blockade, conflicts and rapid urban growth in the crowded, narrow territory are among the reasons most of Gaza’s archeological treasures have not been protected.

An independent archaeologist briefed on the issue said photos suggest the site was a cemetery dating back to the late Roman era to early Byzantine period 1,600 years ago.

“They indicate that a Roman temple or a Byzantine church is nearby,” said the expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment.

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