A treasure trove of 'ancient' archaeology tucked away in Gaza

Tue Nov 10, 2015 8:11am EST
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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Nafez Abed's cramped workroom is filled with sculptures and mosaics with patterns from the Byzantine, Greek and Roman periods. It is an emporium of Middle Eastern antiquity tucked away in Gaza. And none of it is real.

Abed, 55, is a self-taught archaeologist, preserver and restorer who crafts reproductions of ancient pieces he finds or has seen in museums. He gives his work so much authenticity that international experts have been wowed by his skills.

A fair-haired, intense man, he spends almost all his time in his studio, built on the roof of his unfinished house in a refugee camp in northern Gaza. Its windows are covered in plastic to keep out the rain that blows in from the nearby Mediterranean.

"The Museum of Mosaics" is written on the wooden door that leads into his workroom. On a large table in the middle of the dark room stands a reproduction of a statue of Alexander the Great, looking as if it truly dated from 300 BC, amid oil-fired lamps and copies of coins dating back more than 2,500 years.

"My fixation with archaeology runs in my veins," said the father of seven, who trained as a blacksmith before deciding 30 years ago to dedicate himself to a more refined art.

"I spend more than 10 hours a day here, sitting among my works and reproductions," he said with a sense of wistfulness. His room was lit by one small lamp, plugged into an extension cable that stretches from the floor below.

It was Abed's father who got him started, imbuing him with a love of antiquity and the rich ancient history of Gaza, where the blinded Biblical hero Samson lived.

Over the millennia, Gaza has served as a trading port for ancient Egyptians, Philistines, Romans and Crusaders. Beneath its sands lie ruins from Alexander the Great's siege of the city, Emperor Hadrian's visit, Mongol raids and the arrival of the Islamic armies 1,400 years ago.   Continued...

Archeology Nafez Abed cleans sculptures at his workroom, at Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, November 8, 2015. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem