It is nearly impossible today to imagine Gaza as a thriving port on the sparkling Mediterranean, where a rich socioeconomic exchange took place over thousands of years of human history. Yet for millennia, Gaza was an essential stopping point on the overland route between Africa, Asia and Europe. Rich archaeological treasures found in the area indicate that trading was brisk throughout the Bronze Age — including finds indicating a close relationship with Ancient Egypt — to Hellenic and Roman times, and it remained important for both Byzantine and Islamic rulers. Ships loaded with amphorae carrying grains, dried fruit, vegetables and wine set sail from the ancient port of Anthedon, while caravans bearing incense and myrrh from Yemen and Oman transited through Gaza. Silk from as far away as China and scented woods and spices from India passed by on their way to the Greco-Roman world. Gaza was a unique meeting point between civilizations.
Fast forward to today, when we see a broken Gaza, its people battered in a cataclysm following decades of continuous tragedy. Since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, Israel has reportedly dropped more than 65,000 tons of bombs on the 140-square-mile territory, killing over 25,000 Palestinians, with 7,000 still buried beneath the rubble, and injuring over 63,000. The United Nations estimates that 1.9 million people have been displaced, and more than half of the area’s buildings have been destroyed according to an analysis of satellite data. Infrastructure necessary for daily life has been demolished.
Amid the devastation, an estimated 200 cultural and ancient historical sites have been damaged or destroyed in this territory that French archaeologist Rene Elter, who has been working in Gaza since 2001, describes as one “enormous archaeological site.” Last weekend a video and stories on Instagram showed that pillaging on the ground might be taking place too: Israeli soldiers were rummaging in a warehouse where Elter and his team stored archaeological artifacts. [Continue reading…]