The Gaza Strip was conquered by empires that left behind fortresses, alabaster jewelry, and bronze weaponry. Now the impoverished Strip is trying to rein in the black market in ancient treasure and better preserve items often found by chance.
Gaza City, Gaza
Better known for its long-running conflict, the Gaza Strip also has a reputation as an archaeological treasure-trove.
When laborers stumbled on an ancient hoard of 1,300 silver coins and the walls of a 3,300-year-old city in the southern town of Rafah in January, it was a fresh reminder that the tiny territory maintains a rich past.
At least a dozen major empires have conquered this tiny territory – including the Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and British. They left behind everything from walled fortresses to alabaster jewelry to bronze weaponry.
But in the absence of solid laws or regulations, relics from as early as the Bronze Age are happened upon mostly by chance, poorly kept, plundered, or sold on the black market.
"Gaza is very small geographically, but in terms of archaeology, it is very large," says the Hamas minister of tourism and antiquities, Mohammed al-Agha. "Gaza was at the crossroads of Africa, Asia, and Europe, and there is a great accumulation of human civilization here. But we don't have our own specialists so we can't manage the sites professionally."