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4,500-year-old Canaanite statue discovered in Gaza

A farmer found the treasure by chance while plowing his Gaza field.
SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images

Gaza's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced the discovery of an ancient statue dating back to the Canaanite era on April 26. A farmer had found the statue in the Sheikh Hamouda area of Khan Yunis in the southern enclave.

Jamal Abu Rida, director of antiquities at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in the Gaza Strip, told Al-Monitor that the 22-centimeter (nine-inch) limestone statue is of a head wearing a crown of snakes.

Abu Rida said, “The statue dates back 4,500 years and belongs to the Canaanite goddess Anat, who is the goddess of love, beauty and war, according to Canaanite mythology. The statue is currently exhibited in the Pasha Palace Museum in Gaza.”

He explained, “The ministry has long worked on a multitude of projects in maintenance, restoration and archaeological excavation. Chief among these are restoration works at the site of Saint Hilarion Monastery and the Byzantine Church, in addition to excavating the Roman cemetery in northern Gaza City.”

Abu Rida went on, “The number of visitors from inside the Gaza Strip to archaeological sites across the enclave numbered 17,000 during the month of March alone, which suggests increasing awareness among Gazans of their history and heritage.”

On Jan. 24, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of the Hamas government in Gaza reopened the Byzantine Church, which dates back to the fifth century AD, in the city of Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip after extensive restoration work.

The church has the largest mosaic floor among the churches of the Middle East, according to the Gaza Ministry of Tourism. Its walls are adorned with texts written in ancient Greek. According to the ministry, the religious texts date to the era of Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II, who ruled between 408 and 450 AD.

The farmer who found the statue, Nidal Abu Eid, told Al-Monitor he found the unusual object while plowing. “After rinsing it, I realized that it was an artifact,” he said, adding that he inherited the land from his father decades ago and has never searched for artifacts, though his father had told him that the area was a historical trade route in Palestine.

He added that he did not hesitate to hand over the artifact to the authorities so they could preserve this historical piece and raising public awareness of the importance of preserving sites and artifacts.

In an investigative report by Arij published Nov. 18, 2021, the period of the Palestinian Authority’s rule in the Gaza Strip between the years 1994-2007 counted four major violations of archaeological sites, while 11 occurred under the current Hamas government.

According to the report, both successive regimes have failed to protect most of the 76 known archaeological sites in the Gaza Strip, 31 of which were destroyed as a result of urban expansion. These were never registered as archaeological sites with the Palestinian Land Authority in Gaza and remained unprotected.

Gaza City resident Ayoub Abu al-Aish told Al-Monitor, “The numerous archaeological discoveries in the Gaza Strip, the latest of which was the discovery of the Canaanite statue, show the Palestinian people’s history on their land and civilizations dating back to thousands of years.”

He commented “Gaza still holds more secrets on its lands, which have witnessed many historical eras such as the Pharaonic, Roman, Byzantine and Assyrian, among others.”

Hosni Abu Ghali, a university student studying history, told Al-Monitor, “The many archaeological discoveries prove that Palestine in general and the Gaza Strip in particular contain treasures of ancient civilizations from different eras.” He said he hoped that the artifact would not be neglected or disappear, as happened with the statue of Apollo, which was found by a resident in Gaza several years ago.

In 2014, a Palestinian fisherman stumbled upon a bronze statue believed to be of the Greek god Apollo and the Hamas government confiscated it. The fate of this statue, thought to be from the fifth century BC, remains shrouded in mystery ever since.