The refuge that allows Gaza to reflect on past gloriesBackground here.
By Donald Macintyre in Sudaniya, Gaza
Saturday, 9 August 2008
It may seem an odd dilemma in a territory where more than half of families live below an internationally defined poverty line, but Jawdat Khoudary is wondering whether there should be museum charges in Gaza.
As the owner and creator of the Strip's first purpose-built archaeological museum, he has no doubt that the most prized patrons, the organised parties of schoolchildren already starting to flock to it, must come for free. And having sunk a small fortune – he won't say how much – into building this elegant and air-conditioned space overlooking the Mediterranean just north of Gaza City's Shati refugee camp, he certainly isn't trying to make money from it. But the 48-year-old owner of one of Gaza's biggest construction companies worries that if he doesn't charge a couple of shekels for individual entry, Gazans may not realise the value of their heritage as much as he does.
But even Mr Khoudary's collection is only a small fraction of the dazzling archaeological treasures of the Gaza, those already dug up and dispersed among collections round the world, those plundered and stolen, and those still waiting to be excavated.
However, this half of that fraction is rich enough to make the trip worthwhile. It ranges chronologically from sun-dried clay pots and mud-brick wall fragments from 5,500 years ago to a single – relatively – modern curiosity: a confectionery tin decorated with the portrait of Gamal Abdel Nasser.
In between are hundreds of objects that testify to Gaza's long and turbulent history from the early bronze age to the Ottoman Empire: heavy stone anchors and more recognisable Roman ones; ancient Egyptian alabaster plates; clay wine jars and Corinthian columns from the Byzantine period; oil, water and perfume pots, and a clay wheel from a [now reconstructed] child's toy cart from the Philistine period between 1600BC and 1200BC; glass bottles from the Hellenistic age and miniature sculptures in ivory. And "a very important piece", says Mr Khoudary, the clay coffin lid in the form of a man's head from the 11th century BC.
The story of Israeli archaeology in Gaza is complex, told in fascinating detail in a new book on the collection at the Israel Museum by Trude Dothan, its greatest practitioner, and the woman who between 1972 and 1982 conducted the scientific excavations at Deir el-Bala in central Gaza. These established that it had been, in the 14th and 13th centuries BC, a prosperous Egyptian or Egyptian-style settlement, including a large official palace with, in its later years, an artisans' village turning out the extraordinary, haunting, anthropoid coffins of the kind now in the Israel Museum.
Saturday, August 09, 2008
THE GAZA MUSEUM OF ARCHAEOLOGY is profiled in the Independent: