A farmer in the Gaza Strip discovered a 4,500-year-old sculpture of an ancient goddess while working on his land.
The sculpture depicts the head of Anat, “the goddess of love, beauty and war” in Canaanite mythology, according to Jamal Abu Rida, spokesman for the Hamas-run Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. .
Nidal Abu Eid, the farmer who made the discovery, said he was working his land as usual on Monday in the Qarara area east of Khan Yunis, a town in the southern Gaza Strip, when he made the discovery.
“While I was plowing the land to plant it, we came across this statue,” he told NBC News on Wednesday. “What caught our attention was the inscription of the snake on the head, which means that it is very important.”
In the sculpture, Anat wears a serpent as a crown, a symbol of strength and invisibility. The goddess probably served as inspiration for Athena, the Greek goddess of war, who is also frequently depicted surrounded by serpents.
The 6.7-inch-tall limestone head is estimated to date to around 2,500 BC, the ministry said, and is now on display at Qasr al-Basha, a small museum with an antiquities department in Gaza.
For Abu Eid, the discovery also had deeper historical significance.
“This statue documents the history of the Palestinian people in this land and that their origins are Canaanite,” he said. Abu Eid added that he had not thought of selling the piece and instead gave it to the museum as he believed it belonged to the Palestinian people.
The land of the Gaza Strip “has passed through many human civilizations, be they Canaanite, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic and other human civilizations,” Abu Rida said at a press conference on Tuesday.
The name ‘Canaan’ appears in ancient Egyptian writing from the 15th century BC, as well as in the Old Testament. In these texts, “Canaan” refers to lands that include parts of modern-day Syria, Israel, Jordan, and Palestinian territories.
The faith of the people who lived there at the time was characterized by the worship of local deities in local temples, and depictions of the gods were rare, making this new discovery rare.
As a natural port linking Egypt’s ancient trade routes with the wider Levant, the Gaza Strip is rich in history and culture. However, the antiquities have long been vulnerable due to war, political uprisings, looting and the rapid urban development needed to accommodate the enclave’s population of over 2 million people.
The densely populated swath of land has also faced a crippling land, air and sea blockade from Israel since militant group Hamas seized control in a 2007 power struggle with rival Palestinian group Fatah.
In 2017, Hamas bulldozed the excavation site of Tel Es-Sakan, a 25-acre Canaanite city that was built more than 1,000 years before the pyramids and discovered in 1998. Active excavations have ceased at the site. in 2002 during a Palestinian uprising against the Israelis. troops. Hamas said it needed the land to build housing for its employees and to accommodate a rapidly growing population in Gaza with little access to outdoor space.
But at yesterday’s press conference, Abu Rida also geopolitically framed the discovery of the Canaanite goddess: “Such findings prove that Palestine has a civilization and a history, and no one can deny or falsify that history,” did he declare. “It’s the Palestinian people and their ancient Canaanite civilization.”
Felicity Cobbing, chief curator of the Palestine Exploration Fund in London, an organization that funds archaeological and historical research in Palestine, said the discovery could represent a new path for Hamas authorities.
“The relationship between archeology and urban development is always difficult, but the successes of recent archaeological projects have shown that they benefit the people of Gaza,” she said.
“In practice, the projects enable collaboration between local and international universities and the heritage industry, and strengthen the historical knowledge of the territory. They also carry the promise of expanding domestic tourism.
“These archaeological finds are important for building the infrastructure of Gaza as a place that has the right to life, the right to exist, and for people to enjoy and celebrate their culture,” she said. .
Lawahez Jabari and Associated press contributed.