Skip to main content

2,000-year-old Roman tomb found in northern Gaza

Egyptian excavations in the northern Gaza Strip have unearthed the remains of a Roman cemetery dating back 2,000 years and containing nearly 100 graves.
Abdul Karim al-Kafarnah, a Palestinian resident of Beit Hanun, collects pottery fragments.

GAZA - A Palestinian citizen recently found large archaeological stones inside an excavation site where an Egyptian team is working to establish a residential area in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. 

A team of archaeologists led by French archaeologist Rene Elter visited the site on June 26, where they found remains of what is believed to be the largest cemetery in the Gaza Strip dating back to the Roman era, which, they said, is estimated to date back approximately 2,000 years. 

Gaza is home to a panoply of major archaeological sites buried under urban sprawl. This was the result of neglect by government and other authorities who lack the necessary experience and knowledge about the important value of such antiquities. Several sites have also been exposed to illegal excavations and looting, while Israeli planes have bombed archaeological areas located close to military sites of factions in Gaza.

The cemetery is the second to be discovered in the area this year. After inspecting the recently discovered site, Elter said in a press statement that the new site contains 100 graves; the first cemetery that was discovered near the same site contained 40. All of the discovered tombs are adorned with multicolored paintings and bayleaf crowns, according to Elter.

Gaza has been home to various ancient civilizations throughout history, and many Roman ruins are found there such as the Byzantine Church in the Jabaliya camp. A large majority of Roman cemeteries are located in the northern coastal areas of the Gaza Strip and close to the ancient Anthedon Harbor, the second largest port in Gaza during the Roman era. The harbor served as an important station for merchants between Gaza and today’s Israeli cities.

In the wake of the May 2021 conflict between the Palestinian armed factions in Gaza and Israel that resulted in the extensive destruction of residential buildings, Egypt dispatched a team of workers and engineers to build three residential cities in the northern and central Gaza Strip. 

During the dredging operations, a set of ancient antiquities dating back to the Roman era were unearthed. Chief among these were tombs, church remains, and pottery pots containing gold and coins. These sites were subsequently closed for a specific period of time until archaeologists finished the excavation process and transferred the artifacts to safe locations.

In late June, the so-called Government Action Follow-Up Committee in Gaza launched an archaeological guide for Gaza in which it dedicated a detailed space to the history of archaeological sites, both Islamic and Christian, and documented a part of the Ayyubid, Mamluk and Ottoman Islamic civilizations. The guide also aims to promote and raise awareness of the importance, greatness and ancient character of Palestinian civilization.

Salam al-Fairani, a Gazan construction worker, told Al-Monitor, “During my participation with Egyptian workers in deep excavations of more than 4 meters to lay the grounds of an Egyptian residential city, the bulldozers removed large stones from the ground during the excavation. At first, I did not realize that they were artifacts, but it was not long before stones started to appear with the progress in excavations. I informed the site manager, who proceeded to contact the competent authorities, which, in turn, instructed the Premiere Urgence Internationale Organization specialized in antiquities to assess the site.”

In this context, Fadl al-Atal, an archaeological expert, told Al-Monitor that the cemetery contains bodies of the inhabitants of the historical Anthedon Harbor area of the Roman era, and work is currently underway to protect it from any encroachment.

Atal said that analytical studies are being conducted with the aim of unearthing the cemetery owners and their positions in society.

Gaza, he continued, is home to many ancient monuments dating back to the Byzantine, Roman, Mamluk, Persian and Canaanite eras. 

A set of Roman antiquities, he added, began to recently appear, including cemeteries and churches, among others. “All of these monuments and archaeological sites are part of the history of our people and our cultural identity, and they must be preserved and completely protected,” Atal added.

He pointed out that the lack of control over such archaeological sites, especially those located by the shore and that were swept away by sea waves, as well as the absence of experts specialized in this type of excavation, led Gazans to excavate and sell stones to quarries that turn them into concrete. This, he added, also led Gazans to steal and sell ancient artifacts to specialists.

Atal continued, “The Gaza Strip lacks museums capable of housing ancient artifacts due to the lack of interest in this field as well as the lack of experts and specialists.”

He said that the wide presence of sites in various areas of Gaza requires more efforts to train teams of local experts to excavate antiquities and train other young cadres in Gaza to preserve archaeological sites and push for the establishment of a museum.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Palestine Briefing Palestine Briefing

Palestine Briefing

Top Palestine stories in your inbox each week

Trend Reports

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (4th R) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HOW HWEE YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

From roads to routers: The future of China-Middle East connectivity

A general view shows the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, on March 29, 2018. - On March 27, Saudi announced a deal with Japan's SoftBank to build the world's biggest solar plant. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Regulations on Middle East renewable energy industry starting to take shape

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial