Palestinian farmer discovers rare Byzantine-era mosaic while planting an olive tree in Gaza

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last spring, a Palestinian farmer He was planting a new olive tree when his shovel hit a hard object. They called their son, and for three months, the couple slowly excavated an ornate Byzantine-era mosaic.

Experts say the discovery of the mosaic – which contains 17 well-preserved images of animals and birds – is one of Gaza’s largest archaeological treasure,

The discovery has sparked excitement among archaeologists, and the region’s Hamas rulers are planning a major announcement in the coming days. But it is also calling for better protection of Gaza’s antiquities, a fragile collection of sites threatened by a lack of awareness and resources.

“These are the most beautiful mosaic floors discovered in Gaza, both in terms of the quality of the graphic representation and the complexity of the geometry,” said René Alter, an archaeologist at the French Biblical and Archaeological School in Jerusalem.

“Never have mosaic floors of this finesse, this precision in graphics and the richness of colors been discovered in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

Alter says that the mosaic pavement dates back to between the 5th and 7th centuries. But he added that proper excavation must be done to determine when it was actually built and whether it was part of a religious or secular Complex.

Alter, who has conducted research in Gaza in the past, has not been able to visit the site, but has seen a series of photographs and videos taken by local research partners.

A Palestinian dusts off parts of a Byzantine-era mosaic floor that was uncovered by a farmer in Burij in the central Gaza Strip on September 5, 2022.

A Palestinian dusts off parts of a Byzantine-era mosaic floor that was uncovered by a farmer in Burij in the central Gaza Strip on September 5, 2022.
(AP photo / Fatima Shabair)

Experts are also concerned by the continued threat of conflict with israel and the continued preservation and protection of ancient mosaics. The mosaic was discovered just a kilometer, or about half a mile, from the Israeli border.

Alter said the discovery is in “immediate danger” because it is too close to the Israeli secession fence.

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Such areas along the fence are often the scene of intermittent skirmishes or Israeli incursions. Just last month, Israel and Gaza’s Islamic Jihad terrorist group fought a fierce three-day battle that involved Israeli shelling of terrorist posts and the landing of some missed Palestinian rockets in the area.

Alter also worries that excavations by inexperienced people could damage the site. His hope is that a professional team can properly excavate, restore and preserve the mosaic.

“It is imperative to organize an emergency rescue intervention quickly,” Alter said.

Detail of parts of a Byzantine-era mosaic floor that was recently uncovered by a Palestinian farmer in the Central Gaza Strip on September 5, 2022.

Detail of parts of a Byzantine-era mosaic floor that was recently uncovered by a Palestinian farmer in the Central Gaza Strip on September 5, 2022.
(AP photo / Fatima Shabair)

Gaza, but a narrow enclave Mediterranean SeaBeing a major land route connecting Mesopotamia and the Levant in ancient times, it boasts a plethora of antiquities and archeological sites. The coastal strip is filled with the remains of ancient civilizations from the Bronze Age to the Islamic and Ottoman eras.

However, treasures are rarely preserved. In the past they were looted. In recent years, some were damaged or destroyed by development projects or fighting with Israel. The Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed in 2007 following the capture of Gaza by the Hamas terrorist group has devastated the economy, leaving few resources to protect the antiquities.

Hamas itself pays little attention to the conservation of the sites, while struggling to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population. There are more than 2.3 million people squeezed into the strip of just 300 square kilometers (115 sq mi). In 2017, Hamas bulldozers destroyed large parts of the site, containing the remains of a 4,500-year-old Bronze Age settlement, to build housing projects for its workers.

Bulldozer excavation earlier this year Egypt funded housing project Roman-era tomb unearthed in northern Gaza.

Detail of parts of a Byzantine-era mosaic floor is uncovered by a Palestinian farmer in Burij in the central Gaza Strip on September 5, 2022.

Detail of parts of a Byzantine-era mosaic floor is uncovered by a Palestinian farmer in Burij in the central Gaza Strip on September 5, 2022.
(AP photo / Fatima Shabair)

Among the few protected sites in Gaza is St. Hilarion Monastery, which extends from late roman empire dates to the Islamic Umayyad period, and the site of a Byzantine church that was restored by international aid organizations and opened this year in the northern Gaza Strip.

While these sites also have mosaics, Alter said the latest discovery, in the central Gaza city of Buriz, is “extraordinary.”

The Hamas-run Antiquities Department described the mosaic as “a major archeological discovery”, but declined to comment further, saying a formal announcement would be made later.

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The owner of the land, who declined to be identified before the official announcement, has covered the discovered part of the mosaic floor with tin sheets. He said he expected to receive compensation for protecting the unique find on his property.

The patch of land holding the mosaic is about 500 square meters (5,400 sq ft) and three excavated spots show glimpses of the mosaic.

The largest hole in the ground, about 2 m by 3 m (6 ft by 9 ft), has 17 images of animals. The other two show the intricate patterns of the tiles. The roots of an old olive tree have damaged parts of the mosaic, which appears to be about 23 square meters (250 sq ft) in size.

A Palestinian farmer found a rare 4,500-year-old stone sculpture while working on his land in southern Gaza.

A Palestinian farmer found a rare 4,500-year-old stone sculpture while working on his land in southern Gaza.
(AP Photo/Adele Hannah)

Just last month, another Palestinian farmer working on his land in the Gaza Strip found a rare 4,500-year-old stone statue.

The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities stated that the 22 cm (6.7 in) tall limestone head is believed to represent Canaanite goddess Anato and around 2,500 BC. is estimated to be

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“Anat Canaanite mythology contained the goodness of love, beauty and war,” Jamal Abu Rida, director of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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