Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip
While workers labored on a large construction site in the Gaza Strip, a security guard noticed a strange piece of stone sticking out of the earth.
"I thought it was a tunnel," said Ahmad, the young guard, referring to secret passages dug by the Islamist group Hamas to help it battle Israel.
In the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas and repeatedly ravaged by war, people are more familiar with burying the dead than digging up their heritage.
But what Ahmad found in January was part of a Roman necropolis dating from about 2,000 years ago, representative of the impoverished Palestinian territory's rich, if under-developed, archaeological treasures.
After the last war between Israel and Hamas in May 2021 left a trail of damage in Gaza, Egypt began a reconstruction initiative worth $500 million.
As part of that project in Jabaliya, in the north of the coastal enclave, bulldozers were digging up the sandy soil in order to build new concrete buildings when Ahmad made his discovery.
"I notified the Egyptian foremen, who immediately contacted local authorities and asked the workers to stop," said Ahmad, a Palestinian who preferred not to give his full name.
With rumors on social media of a big discovery, Gaza's antiquities service called in the French non-governmental group Premiere Urgence Internationale and the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem to evaluate the site's importance and mark off the area.
"The first excavations permitted the identification of about 40 tombs dating from the ancient Roman period between the first and second centuries AD," said French archaeologist Rene Elter, who led the team dispatched to Jabaliya.
"The necropolis is larger than these 40 tombs and should have between 80...