The Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Gaza started an archaeological excavation project yesterday in a Roman cemetery in the north of the coastal enclave. The project is funded by the French School of Antiquities.
The director-general of the ministry, Jamal Abu Rida, pointed out that details about funerals during the Roman era have been discovered through the initial excavations. He said that the way that the remains of the bodies are arranged suggest that the people buried in the cemetery were high-ranking Romans. Abu Rida explained previously that "several discoveries" have been made in the past, but this is the "most important" archaeological discovery in the past ten years.
The work at the cemetery has been supervised by a team of French experts. It was discovered by a construction crew working on an Egyptian-funded housing project in February this year. The Hamas-run government in Gaza stopped the construction project immediately and closed-off the site. Up to 100 bodies are believed to be in the cemetery in individual and mass graves.
Gaza is rich in antiquities. Its archaeological sites contain remains from the era of Alexander the Great as well as Roman times. However, international access to heritage sites has been limited since Hamas won the parliamentary election in 2006 because Israeli restrictions on freedom of movement and the occupation state's blockade of Gaza make tourism a near impossibility.