GAZAMAP - Maritime archaeological survey and assessment at Tell Ruqeish and Tell es-Sakan (Gaza Strip) - 2021- Ongoing

Georgia Andreou and Yasmeen ElKhoudary

Despite the wealth of maritime archaeological information in the eastern Mediterranean, our knowledge largely derives from geographical regions that have access to expertise and financial resources to produce comprehensive and interdisciplinary studies on maritime archaeology. An area with an urgent need for capacity building, detailed site documentation, and heritage monitoring and preservation strategies, is the Gaza Strip, a coastal strip of 365 km2 with a width ranging between 6km and 12km  (Figures 1-2). 

Though some sites in the Gaza Strip (e.g. Anthedon Harbour, Maiumas, Rafah, Tell el Ajjul) are regularly referenced in scholarship, archaeological research in the area has been limited in the past 20 years, with the most recent attempts focusing on the conservation of standing structures. As a result, our knowledge base for the Gaza Strip, a place often referred to as a historical landmark between Egypt and different empires in the Near East, is outdated.

A remote assessment conducted by the Maritime Endangered Archaeology of the Middle East and North Africa (MarEA) project  demonstrated the widespread impact of coastal erosion, building development and conflict on Gaza’s archaeological sites (Figures 3-4). This problem is exacerbated by widely documented lack of funds, restricted access to sites, systematic damage and destruction, limited capacity and expertise, and limited public awareness. All these factors are impeding the documentation, monitoring and management of Gaza’s maritime cultural heritage (MCH). 

In-situ visits by a MarEA consultant (Mrs Yasmeen ElKhoudary) on a selection of sites in December 2021-January 2022, confirmed the detrimental impact of these factors on the maritime archaeological sites. Through this reconnaissance survey, Mrs ElKhoudary conducted preliminary discussions with the Department of Antiquities (Ministry of Tourism) that indicated archaeological sites that are in urgent need of detailed documentation and protection. The Ministry of Tourism has also expressed their support for future maritime archaeological projects, creating important opportunities to establish partnerships, build capacity and develop longer-term maritime archaeological projects.

The aim of this project was to respond to the urgent need for the documentation and assessment of the two archaeological sites that the Ministry has indicated as exceptionally vulnerable and at imminent risk of coastal erosion, illicit digging (sand mining), looting and building development. The two sites are Tell es-Sakan (Figure 5) located North of Wadi Gaza and Tell Ruqeish (Figure 6) located South of the Wadi. The first site, Tell Ruqeish, is an Iron Age emporion with extensive and actively deteriorating coastal and submerged features. The second, Tell es-Sakan, is the largest site in the Gaza Strip and the oldest and largest Egyptian colony in the Southern Levant.

The project was carried out in conjunction with the Islamic University of Gaza (Dr Ayman Hassouna) and took two key approaches:

  1. Detailed topographical survey of the tells (aerial and terrestrial survey of the tell, the scarp and the beach; snorkel survey in front of the sites).
  2.  Training of archaeologists from the Department of Antiquities and students from the Islamic University of Gaza on the methods and theories of maritime archaeology.

The first parameter responds to the urgent need for the documentation of the actively eroding, partly built on and vulnerable to looting, maritime archaeological sites. The second parameter, the creation of a maritime archaeological field school, sets important groundwork for capacity building in the Gaza Strip with respect to maritime archaeology. It will for the first time, provide skills that will enable archaeologists based in Gaza to monitor other maritime archaeological sites in the region and most importantly highlight education opportunities (MA and PhD scholarships) supported by the Foundation. Enhancing existing skillsets and creating networks of stakeholders with different interests in the maritime landscape (archaeologists, coastal engineers, geologists) will allow for formal and more targeted training programmes on coastal monitoring and heritage management within the wider framework of Integrated Coastal Zone Management process, that can in the future attract funding from multiple resources.

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