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In Gaza, Hamas levels an ancient treasure

  • In this Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017 photo, a bulldozer removes sand at Tel Es-Sakan hill, south of Gaza City. Palestinian and French archaeologists began excavating Gaza’s earliest archaeological site nearly 20 years ago; unearthing what they believe is a rare 4,500-year-old Bronze Age settlement. But over protests that grew recently, Gaza’s Hamas rulers have systematically destroyed the work since seizing power a decade ago, to make way for construction projects, and later military bases. (AP Photo/Adel Hana) Adel Hana

  • In this Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017 photo, Junaid Sorosh-Wali, a UNESCO official, takes photos while Fadel al-A'utul, a worker with French excavation mission, explains to him the damage at Tel Es-Sakan hill, south of Gaza City. Palestinian and French archaeologists began excavating Gaza’s earliest archaeological site nearly 20 years ago; unearthing what they believe is a rare 4,500-year-old Bronze Age settlement. But over protests that grew recently, Gaza’s Hamas rulers have systematically destroyed the work since seizing power a decade ago, to make way for construction projects, and later military bases. (AP Photo/Adel Hana) Adel Hana

  • In this undated image taken in 2000, provided by the Palestinian Department of Antiquities, an aerial view of the excavations at Tel Es-Sakan, shows houses dating to 2600-2300 B.C., left, and fortifications from the late fourth millennium B.C, south of Gaza City. Palestinian and French archaeologists began excavating Gaza’s earliest archaeological site nearly 20 years ago; unearthing what they believe is a rare 4,500-year-old Bronze Age settlement. But over protests that grew recently, Gaza’s Hamas rulers have systematically destroyed the work since seizing power a decade ago, to make way for construction projects, and later military bases. (Pierre de Miroschedji/Palestinian Department of Antiquities, via AP) Pierre de Miroschedji

  • Palestinian and French archaeologists began excavating Gaza’s earliest archaeological site nearly 20 years ago; unearthing what they believe is a rare 4,500-year-old Bronze Age settlement. AP

  • In this Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017 photo, Junaid Sorosh-Wali, right, a UNESCO official, inspects the remains of a mosaic at St. Hilarion monastery, a site of early Christianity, in Nusseirat, central Gaza Strip. Gaza is home to numerous ancient treasures, but politics have long complicated archaeological work. At the monastery, which spans from the late Roman Empire to the Islamic Umayyad period, a breach in the fence suggested looters were trying to get in. (AP Photo/Adel Hana) Adel Hana



Associated Press
Friday, October 06, 2017

Palestinian and French archaeologists began excavating Gaza’s earliest archaeological site nearly 20 years ago, unearthing what they believe is a rare 4,500-year-old Bronze Age settlement.

But over protests that grew recently, Gaza’s Hamas rulers have systematically destroyed the work since seizing power a decade ago, allowing the flattening of this hill on the southern tip of Gaza City to make way for construction projects, and later military bases. In its newest project, Hamas-supported bulldozers are flattening the last remnants of excavation.

“There is a clear destruction of a very important archaeological site,” said Palestinian archaeology and history professor Mouin Sadeq, who led three excavations at the site along with French archaeologist Pierre de Miroschedji after its accidental discovery in 1998. “I don’t know why the destruction of the site was approved.”

Tel Es-Sakan (hill of ash) was the largest Canaanite city between Palestine and Egypt, according to Sadeq. It was named after the great amount of ash found during the excavations, which suggests the settlement was burnt either naturally or in a war.

Archaeologists found the 25-acre hill to be hiding a fortified settlement built centuries before pharaonic rule in Egypt, and 1,000 years before the pyramids. But the excavations stopped in 2002 due to security concerns.

When calls on Hamas to stop the recent flattening intensified last month, the nearest available expert to gain access to Gaza was Jean-Baptiste Humbert, a Jerusalem-based archaeologist at the Ecole Biblique and who had excavated other sites in Gaza.

“Today the complete southern facade of the Tel is erased,” said Humbert. In previous years, faces and ramparts on other sides were also destroyed. “Now it is destroyed all around,” he said.

It’s among the earliest sites indicating the emergence of the “urban society” concept in the Near East, when communities were transforming from farming villages around 4,000 BC, and it was on trade routes between Egypt and the Levant, according to Humbert.

Humbert shared an aerial photo from 2000 showing patterns of walls from atop the mound. The area “was the first city of Palestine to have a city wall,” he said. Now, “the field work you see in the photo is totally destroyed.”

Gaza is home to numerous ancient treasures, but politics have long complicated archaeological work.

The French excavations stopped in 2002 because of a Palestinian uprising in which protesters violently clashed with Israeli troops around the nearby Netzarim settlement. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. But Hamas, shunned by the West as a terrorist group, won elections and eventually drove out the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in 2007. The excavations never resumed.

Unlike more extreme Islamic groups, Hamas has not deliberately destroyed antiquities for ideological reasons.