As the Bulldozers Continue, Will the Recently Discovered Ruins of a Byzantine Church Be Lost Forever?
During the preparatory works to build a shopping center in Gaza (Palestine), a group of workers discovered ancient ruins. Archaeologists have identified them as possible parts of a Byzantine church.
According to Hurriyet Daily News, the church has been dated as around 1,500 years old. The discovery includes segments of marble pillars with ornate Corinthian capitals - one nearly three meters (9.84 ft.) long, and a 90 cm (35.43 inch) foundation stone bearing a Greek symbol for Christ. Fifteen pieces have been discovered so far.
The Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Ministry says that when the building was created Byzantine rulers were very interested in founding churches in the Gaza Strip. In those times it was a prosperous seaport. During Roman domination, Gaza was a safe home for Greeks, Romans, Jews, Egyptians, and Persians. Many excavation sites still contain artifacts which are a mixture of these cultures.
On April 2, a bulldozer and a digger shifted earth in Palestine Square, which is a busy shopping district in downtown Gaza. The bystanders used their phones to take pictures and video of the pieces which appeared during the works and informed officials.
In the late 4th and early 5th centuries, most of the pagan temples were destroyed in Gaza and replaced with Christian churches. In 637, the Christian population was mostly converted to Islam and the old churches were abandoned. Thus, since the first stone of the recently found site was uncovered, archaeologists were convinced that this place must contain the remains of a cathedral or church from the Byzantine period. According to the researchers, the church was built between 395 and the late 600s.
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This find has been hailed as one of the most precious of the last few years, but the investor wants to continue the construction of the shopping center. As Jamal Abu Rida, the general director of the antiquities ministry said:
''Our mission is to preserve our Palestinian history before Islam and after Islam. The site we are talking about is 2,000 square meters and 10 meters deep and requires hundreds of workers and millions of dollars to carry out proper excavation to extract pieces and read the texts written on them.''
Some of the pieces of the church that was built between 395 and the late 600s. (Wilx10.com)
However, The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs supports the plan to continue commercial development. The land where the church is found belongs to them, so the bulldozers will work despite the protests of the local activists, archaeologists, etc.
According to Hyam al-Betar, an archaeologist who works with the antiquities ministry, he screamed at bulldozers to stop on Tuesday as they roughly moved marble columns from under the sand, breaking one. The technicians from the Ministry of Antiquities are trying to save as much as possible, by collecting all the artifacts which they see, including the pieces of columns, pottery, plates, etc., but they assert that this is not an archaeological excavation, but a fight with the bulldozers for every single ancient artifact.
Construction work continues at the site. (Wilx10.com)
A similar problem exists in Yucatan, Mexico, where archaeologists are racing to keep up with development as suburbs of the colonial city of Merida swallow Maya settlements. Due to the increasing number of retirees from the USA, Canada and other parts of the world, some Merida suburbs are expanding at a rate of 7 percent a year. This growth affects the Mayan area which is known as T'Ho. The Yucatan peninsula has over 3,500 known archaeological sites, but only 22 government archaeologists. Only 17 sites are currently open to the public.
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Jose Huchim, an archaeologist who works for the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) made an appeal to stop the rapid expansion:
"There is never going to be enough money to recover the 3,500 sites in Yucatan, impossible. As long as humans don't touch the relics, they will last thousands of years. Let's not eat all the cake at once. I'm of the opinion we have to leave something for the future generations of archaeologists."
Some figurines that have been discovered around the Mayan T'Ho. (Azteca Noticias)
Often the housing developments are planned on top of ruin sites that are smaller Maya satellite settlements that might contain dozens of houses and a few raised temple platforms. Many of these places have never been well examined, so it is impossible to know what treasures they hold.
The difficult role for archaeologists trying to stop bulldozers is also an issue in Egypt. On February 2015, Coptic monks laid down in front of bulldozers to protect the ancient site which covers the St. Macarius Monastery. The bulldozers appeared as part of a roadwork project. The monastery was founded in 360 AD, by St Macarius the Egyptian, who was a spiritual father of more than 4,000 monks of different nationalities, including Egyptians, Greeks, Ethiopians, Armenians, Nubians, Asians, Palestinians, Italians, Gauls, and Spaniards. It is located 92 km (57.17 miles) from Cairo, in Wadi el-Natrun, and is one of the most important early Christian sites in the Middle East. As a result of the brave action of the Coptic monks, the Ministry of Antiquities decided to protect the site.
The St. Macarius Monastery. (CC BY SA 4.0)
Featured Image: The foundation stone found in Gaza. Source: Wilx10.com