In the Roman necropolis Ard-al-Moharbeen, located in the Gaza Strip, archaeologists have uncovered at least 125 tombs, many of which still contain intact skeletons, the Art Newspaper reported Wednesday. These discoveries have revealed new information about internment rituals, trade, and social networks in the region.
Such items as perfume bottles and coins placed in the skeleton’s mouths, which would have been used as offerings to the god of the underworld for safe passage into the next life, were recovered.
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Intricate engravings of dolphins and vineyards decorate some of the sarcophagi found so far. Archaeologists believe the dead could have been fisherman and that the vines could represent a fruitful afterlife.
Two rare lead sarcophagi dating to the second and third centuries CE were also unearthed by the team in February. They anticipate further excavations will yield more results over the next few months.
The necropolis was initially discovered in January last year by construction engineers working on one of four new cities being constructed in Gaza by the Egyptian government. For security purposes, it was announced this January.
Since the Gaza Ministry of Antiquities lacks its own archaeological resources, it asked the French organization Premiere Urgence Internationale (PUI) to visit the site in February 2022. Work on the site began last fall.
The site has offered “a unique understanding of the relationship between the ancient port of Gaza—Anthedon—and the port of Ashkelon—now in Israel”, Anthony Dutemple, the head of mission in Palestine for PUI, told the Art Newspaper.
The dig is organized by PUI and the École Biblique et Archéologique Francaise (EBAF) and carried out by Palestinian archaeology students from the University of Palestine and the Islamic University of Gaza near the city of Jabalyah. Since 2017, a total of 88 students have been trained. Grants from the British Council’s heritage protection program and the Agence Francaise du Development have funded the project.
Access to archaeological tools and technology has been limited due to Israel’s 16-year blockade of Gaza. Until this program began, students couldn’t work on sites in the area.
“For [the students] to realise that there was once a connection between the two ports,” Dutemple told the Art Newspaper, “has been a milestone in their understanding of ancient and contemporary realities.”