Ornate Byzantine floor mosaic discovered by Palestinian farmer | Gaza

An ornate Byzantine floor mosaic showing colourful birds and other animals has been discovered by chance in Gaza after a Palestinian farmer planted new trees on his land.

Salman al-Nabahin unearthed the mosaic pavement, thought to date from the fifth to the seventh century AD, six months ago while working in his olive orchard in Bureij refugee camp, about half a mile from the border with Israel.

Trying to understand why some trees had not properly taken root, Nabahin said he and his son began digging. Then the son’s axe hit something hard and unfamiliar in appearance.

Nabahin and son at work
Salman al-Nabahin and his son on the recently discovered Byzantine-era mosaic floor. Photograph: Ahmed Zakot/SOPA Images/Rex/Shutterstock

“I searched on the internet … We learned it was mosaic belonging to the Byzantine era,” said the father of seven, sitting next to his discovery. “I see it as a treasure, dearer than a treasure. It isn’t personal, it belongs to every Palestinian.”

The Palestinian ministry of tourism and antiquities said the mosaic included several panels depicting animals and other features of social life during the Byzantine era, the continuation of the Roman empire in eastern provinces from the fifth century.

“The archaeological discovery is still in its early stages and we await to know more of the secrets and civilisation values,” the ministry said in a statement. “National research teams are working in partnership with international experts and scientists from the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem.”

Bird mosaic panels
Detail from the Byzantine mosaic found in Gaza, half a mile from the border with Israel. Photograph: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

Gaza is rich in antiquities, having been an important trading spot for civilisations dating as far back as the ancient Egyptians and the Philistines depicted in the Bible, to the Roman empire and the Crusades from the 11th to the 13th centuries.

Several discoveries have been made in recent years. Due to a lack of funds and expertise, Gaza has usually invited international groups to help with the process of excavation and preservation.

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