A Palestinian farmer unearthed a Byzantine floor mosaic underneath his olive grove. (all photos by and courtesy Ahmed Zakot)

Salman al-Nabahin, a farmer from Gaza’s Bureij refugee camp, was trying to plant new olive trees in his orchard but something underneath the soil was standing in his way. He investigated for three months, digging out the soil with his son until they unearthed a stunningly well-preserved Byzantine floor mosaic.

Al-Nabahin told Reuters that he searched the internet to asses the mosaic’s origins. An archaeologist from the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem, René Elter, later confirmed the work as a Byzantine mosaic, placing the mosaic between the fifth and seventh centuries CE. Elter told the Associated Press (AP) that al-Nabahin had uncovered “the most beautiful mosaic floors discovered in Gaza.”

Salman al-Nabahin and his son clean the mosaic they found under their olive orchard.

“Never have mosaic floors of this finesse, this precision in the graphics and richness of the colors been discovered in the Gaza Strip,” Elter told the AP, adding that more research is needed to determine the work’s intended function.

The Palestinian Ministry of Culture stated that investigation into the mosaic was still in its early stages and a team of national experts would partner with experts at the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem to research the work.

The mosaic depicts 17 images of animals.
René Elter of the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem called the work “the most beautiful mosaic floors discovered in Gaza.”
The mosaic sits less than a half mile away from the Israeli-Palestinian border.

Gaza is situated on a thriving ancient trade route, and dozens of important archaeological discoveries have been uncovered there in the last few years. The recently revealed mosaic, however, sits less than a mile away from the Gaza-Israel barrier, which Elten said puts the discovery in “grave danger.” This area has been particularly subject to violence; earlier this year, the London-based research collective Forensic Architecture examined how Israeli bombings and forced population density pose an “existential threat” to another important archaeological site in Gaza.

“I see it as a treasure, dearer than a treasure,” al-Nabahin told Reuters. “It isn’t personal, it belongs to every Palestinian.”

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.