Ancient Roman Burial Site Discovered in Gaza

In December of 2022, construction crews discovered an ancient burial site in Gaza. The crew made this discovery while working on an Egyptian-funded housing project near Jabaila, a city in the northern Gaza Strip. Since this discovery, crews of archaeologists have been working to excavate the massive site that covers an area of 2,700 square meters (Adwan 2023: 1). These crews are being overseen by French organizations. Luckily for the archaeologists, the graves are remarkably well-preserved, with many containing skeletal remains of Ancient Roman aristocrats. Not only is the site intact, but nothing has been stolen from the graves, which is rare according to Anthony Dutemple, who is the head of mission in Palestine for PUI, a French humanitarian group (Nowakowski 2023: 1).

People working to excavate the burial site. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Post)

The cemetery is about a mile from the ancient Mediterranean city of Anthedon, which was once inhabited by Romans. The area has a rich history that stems from its involvement in ancient trade routes between Levant and Egypt. Alongside the 125 tombs that have been discovered, there have also been two rare sarcophagi that are made out of lead. One of these sarcophagus was decorated with images of grapes, while the other was decorated with images of dolphins.

One of the lead sarcophagi that was discovered at the site. (Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Magazine)

This site is helping to provide more information on human history. According to Rene Elder, a French archaeologist who is leading the dig, the tombs have “revealed a huge amount of information about the cultural material and also about the state of health of the population and the pathologies from which this population may have suffered” (Adwan 2023: 1). In addition to information on the health of the population, the site is providing information on the burial methods and funeral rituals in Roman times. Aside from this, the cemetery serves as a way to preserve the history of Palestinians, Romans, the Gaza Strip, and humans as a collective species.

When I read about this discovery, I thought back to our class discussions on the ethics of unearthing burial sites. Specifically, I thought of the controversies surrounding Native American burial sites and the laws that protect them, such as NAGPRA. Personally, I wouldn’t care if my remains were excavated for research purposes, but I understand that many people would disagree with this statement. Not only are the graves of these people being disturbed, which could be something that they did not want to happen, but the skeletal remains are going to be sent out of Gaza for additional analysis. The disturbance of and removal of skeletal remains from their resting places could be a source of controversy in the future.


Adwan, Issam. 2023. “Archaeologists Unearth the Largest Cemetery Ever Discovered in Gaza and Find Rare Lead Sarcophogi.” AP, September 24, 2023.

Nowakowski, Teresa. 2023. “Roman-Era Cemetery With Over 100 Tombs Unearthed in Gaza.” Smithsonian Magazine, August 2, 2023.

Al-Mughrabi, Nidal. 2023. “At Least 125 Tombs Discovered at Roman-Era Cemetery in Gaza.” Reuters, July 24, 2023.

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Below are two additional resources that are related to this post. One is an article by abcnews and the other is a YouTube video by Al Jazeera.

The Cave of Altamira

The Cave of Altamira is one of the biggest archaeological discoveries in history. The cave was discovered by Modesto Cubillas in 1868. It is located in the Spanish province of Cantabria, near the town of Santillana del Mar. The first excavation works of the site began in 1879. In 1985, the cave was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the cave has since been closed to the public for conservation reasons.

The cave was formed due to collapses due to karstic phenomena of Mount Vispieres. It is about 1,000 meters long, consisting of a series of passages and chambers. It can be divided into three sections; the entrance, the polycrome room, and the gallery. Archaeologists have discovered artifacts from Upper Solutrean (c. 18,500 years ago) and Lower Magdalenian (c. 16,590 – 14,000 years ago) periods, implying that humans inhabited the cave in these time periods. In between these two time periods, the cave was inhabited only by animals.

When Juan Vilanova y Piera and Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, the first archaeologists to excavate the site, published their work, it was met with much skepticism. A group of French specialists were adamant in rejecting the work of Sautuola and Piera. They argued that the paintings were too well maintained and contained too much artistic quality to be from the Paleolithic era. Sautuola was even accused of paying a contemporary artist to forge the paintings. In 1902, due to other prehistoric paintings being found, the French specialists recant their statements and apologized for their mistake in opposing the work of the original archaeologists.

Archaeologists studying the paintings on the ceiling of the cave.

Archeologists have found animal bones, ash from fireplaces, and flint objects such as knives and axes. Since these artifacts were discovered in different layers of sediments, it is assumed that humans inhabited the cave for long periods of time. The cave was likely well positioned, allowing the inhabitants to take advantage of the wildlife that lived in the valleys of the surrounding mountains. Evidence of human inhabitants has only been discovered at the mouth of the cave.

The most famous aspect of the cave is the numerous cave paintings that line the walls. The paintings depict animals, abstract shapes, human hands, and a series of dots. There are 25 colored images in the cave, mostly red and black. The humans that made the paintings used a flint object to engrave the wall, charcoal to draw a black lines. Later, color was added to the drawings. Impressively, the painters took advantage of the natural contours of the cave walls, giving a three dimensional look to their art.

This is a painting in the Cave of Altamira depicting a bison.

The Cave of Altamira has significantly shifted our views on human life in the Paleolithic period. This was the first time that Paleolithic cave art was discovered, showing that people from this era were able to make carvings and paintings onto rock formations. The cave also gives an insight into the daily life of people of this era, as well as their culture.


Lidya Pelayo Alonso, “Atlamira”. World History Encyclopedia. December 13, 2015. 

Alvarez, Stephen, “Altamira Cave.” Ancient Art Archive. April 3, 2022. 

Raphael Minder, “Back to the Cave of Altamira in Spain, Still Controversial”. The New York Times. July 30, 2014.

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