A farmer found ancient Byzantine-era mosaic floors in the central Gaza Strip while planting an olive tree, approximately half a mile from the border with Israel, according to The Associated Press. 

After the farmer, Suleiman al-Nabahin, reported the discovery, the Hamas-run Tourism and Antiques Ministry made an official announcement, noting that ancient glass bottles and pottery were among the finds at the site.

“This provides us with historical information and details about the ancient civilizations and anthropology in Gaza, the historical and economic relations with the ancient regional environment and the status of Palestine across the world, which we will provide you with details about when excavating and revealing its secrets,” the ministry stated.

“The archaeological discovery is still in its infancy, and we are waiting to learn more secrets and cultural values in the various eras that lived on the land of Gaza,” it said. 


Mosaic floor discovered in Gaza (Photo: Screenshot)

René Elter, an archaeologist from the French School of Biblical and Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, welcomed the discovery and praised the beauty of the ancient mosaics. 

“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,” Elter told the AP.

Elter, who was involved in the archaeological work at the site, believes that the mosaic floors date from between the 5th and the 7th centuries.

The Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire, grew in power after the collapse of the western half of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, with Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) as its capital. 

The region eventually became overwhelmingly Muslim after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453. 


Mosaic floor discovered in Gaza (Photo: Screenshot)

Despite its tiny size, the Gaza Strip is rich in archaeological sites due to its unique location at the crossroads between Asia, Africa and Europe. 

In January, the restored remains of a 5th century Byzantine church reopened in Gaza, following a three-year restoration process.

In February, an ancient burial site from the Roman era was uncovered in Beit Lahia in the north of the Strip. 

Ghassan Wishah, the head of the Department of History and Archaeology at the Islamic University of Gaza, spoke to Al-Monitor about the discovery of the pre-Islamic site. 

“The cemetery dates back to the late Roman Empire and the early Byzantine period some 1,600 years ago, i.e., prior to the Islamic era,” Wishah said. “According to the excavations and the preliminary studies of the cemetery, about five tombs were discovered along with pottery items. The inscriptions and pottery and the nature of rocks indicate that the relics belong to the Byzantine era, especially the coffin lids that are adorned with crosses.”

Some of the discoveries in the Gaza Strip are even more ancient than this. 

In April, a Gazan farmer reportedly discovered a 4,500-year-old statue in Khan Younis, a city in southern Gaza adjacent to the Sinai Peninsula. The Hamas-run Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities presented the statue as being of Canaanite origin, dated to approximately 2500 B.C. 

The sculpture reportedly represented Anah, a Canaanite goddess of love and beauty, according to a local archaeologist involved with the discovery. Anah, who was worshipped in different parts of the ancient Levant, is believed to be the inspiration for the Greek goddess Athena. 

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas have frequently used ancient archaeology as a tool to advance their narrative that the local Arab population are direct descendants of the extinct Canaanite civilization, while denying the Jewish people’s well-documented ancient ties to the land of Israel. 

However, the Canaanite civilization vanished from the region long before the Muslim Arab conquest of the area and wider Levant region. 

Aren Meir, an archaeology professor from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, expressed skepticism about the alleged Canaanite-origin claim of the statue. 

“I don’t recognize the statue as anything I have seen before. I don’t recognize it, so I don’t know what it is: It is hard to say from what period it is,” Meir said. 

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