Situated on a path that links North Africa to the land of the Levent , Gaza has been of historic importance for the last 3,500 years, as it served as a coveted location for many cultures. At first, the Egyptian pharaohs were interested in Gaza, but the site later proved significant to many other empires. For early settlers, to control the land of Gaza, great power followed. In this article, we will explore some of the archeological associations of this location.
In the past, Gaza has served as a center for significant military campaigns in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is also home to the oldest road in the world , the Salah al-Din road , which has seen the armies of Pharaohs pass through on chariots, members of the Crusaders, warriors of Alexander the Great’s army, and Napoleon Bonaparte himself.
Thanks to the Department of Antiquities in Gaza (a branch of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of the Palestinian National Authority) the number of excavations taking place in the Gaza Strip has increased since 1995. Some of the findings that have been uncovered so far include:
In 1995, a joint archeological mission that involved the Palestinian Department of Antiquities and the Ecole Biblique et Archeologique Francaise, started to take a look at the Beach refugee camp in Gaza , which held refugees during the late 1940’s. Artifacts, such as high walls, pottery, and houses made out of mud and brick have been found on the site , dating back to as far as 800 BCE. It is here that archeologists hope to uncover information regarding Anthedon (also known as Antidon) , a chief seaport of the Hellenistic period located on the Mediterranean, which linked Asia and Africa to Europe.
St John Church
Dating back to the 6th century, an Israeli archaeologist working on the site of an IDF military installation (located in the northwestern tip of the Gaza Strip), uncovered a Byzantine church in 1999 named after John the Baptist. Still in very good condition, the church, which is nearly 1,500 years old, contained three large and vibrant mosaics displaying floral and geometric designs. Close to the site, researchers also found a Byzantine hot bath and artificial fishponds.
Of recent, the only Early Bronze Age site located in Gaza is Tell es-Sakan, which is found five kilometers south of Gaza City. It was just by the stroke of luck that this site was found in 1998, as construction took off for a new housing development. Work was put on hold in order to allow archeologists to survey the land. Taking up between 8 to 12 hectares, the site gives proof that people continuously lived in the Gaza region throughout the Early Bronze Age.
Other archeological discoveries found in Gaza include a Byzantine era mosaic discovered in Tell Umm Amer (2001) and another Byzantine era monastery and mosaic (since dubbed the ‘Jabalya Mosaic’), which the Palestinian Department of Antiquities had the pleasure of excavating.