Gaza farmer finds 4,500-year-old statue of Canaanite goddess

By Yolande Knell
BBC News, Jerusalem

  • Published
A man holds the limestone head of a 4,500-year-old sculpture said to depict the Canaanite goddess Anat, which was found by a farmer in the Gaza StripImage source, BBC/Rushdi Abualouf
Image caption,
The statue of Anat is now on display in one of the Gaza Strip’s few museums

A stone statue of an ancient goddess of beauty, love and war has been found in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian archaeologists say that the head of the Canaanite deity, Anat, dates back 4,500 years to the late Bronze Age.

The discovery was made by a farmer digging his land in Khan Younis, in the south of the strip.

On social media, some Gazans are making wry comments suggesting the goddess's association with war seems apt.

In recent years, they have seen a series of devastating flare-ups in the conflict between Israel and militant groups in Gaza, which is governed by Hamas.

However, the discovery of this limestone statue is a reminder of how the strip - part of an important trade route for successive ancient civilisations - was originally a Canaanite settlement.

The 22cm-high (8.7 in) carving clearly shows the face of the goddess wearing a serpent crown.

"We found it by chance. It was muddy and we washed it with water," said farmer Nidal Abu Eid, who came across the head while cultivating his field.

"We realised that it was a precious thing, but we didn't know it was of such great archaeological value," he told the BBC.

"We thank God, and we are proud that it stayed in our land, in Palestine, since the Canaanite times."

The statue of Anat - one of the best-known Canaanite deities - is now on display in Qasr al-Basha, a historic building that serves as one of Gaza's few museums.

Image caption,
Gaza, which was on important trade routes for ancient civilisations, is home to numerous ancient treasures

Unveiling the artefact at a press conference on Tuesday, Jamal Abu Rida of the Hamas-run Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said the statue was "resistant against time" and had been carefully examined by experts.

He said that it made a political point.

"Such discoveries prove that Palestine has civilisation and history, and no-one can deny or falsify this history," he said. "This is the Palestinian people and their ancient Canaanite civilisation."

Not all archaeological finds in Gaza have been so highly appreciated or fared so well.

Hamas - an Islamist, militant organisation - has previously been accused of destroying the remains of a large, fortified Canaanite town, Tell al-Sakan, to make way for housing and military bases south of highly populated Gaza City.

However, this year Hamas reopened the remains of a 5th Century Byzantine church after foreign donors helped pay for a years-long restoration project.

Work also stopped at a building site in northern Gaza when 31 Roman-era tombs were found there.

While such ancient sites could potentially be a draw for foreign visitors, it has virtually no tourism industry.

Israel and Egypt tightly restrict the flow of people in and out of the impoverished coastal enclave, which is home to some 2.3 million Palestinians, citing security concerns.