Archaeologists have discovered 125 tombs in Gaza, with skeletons still largely intact and two rare lead sarcophaguses, the Palestinian Ministry of Antiquities said.
The discovery, announced on Monday, comes as archaeologists have been working on a 2,000-year-old Roman cemetery.
The Palestinian territory has been a vital trading point for civilisations dating as far back as the ancient Egyptians and the Philistines depicted in the Bible, through the Roman Empire and the Crusades.
Historians say that local archaeologists reburied findings due to a lack of funding but French organisations have helped excavate the site of the tombs. They were discovered in February last year by a construction crew working on an Egyptian-funded housing project.
“It is the first time in Palestine we have discovered a cemetery that has 125 tombs, and it is the first time in Gaza we have discovered two sarcophaguses made of lead,” Fadel Al A’utul, an expert at the French School of Biblical and Archeological Research, told Reuters.
Mr Al A'utul, whose organisation is supervising the work with help from French aid agency Premiere Urgance International, said one of the two sarcophaguses was decorated with images of grapes and the other with dolphins.
The expert said the funds are needed to preserve the site so that “history does not get washed away.”
Mr A'utul said he hoped the site would become a tourist destination, with a museum to display the findings.
At least 25 engineers and technicians were engaged on Sunday, despite the soaring heat, in digging, clearing the dirt, and preserving the skeletons. They have also been piecing together clay jars found inside some of the graves.
“This is unprecedented,” Jamal Abu Reida, General-Director of Gaza's Antiquities Ministry said.
“It deepens Palestinian roots on this land and shows they date back thousands of years,” he said.
Gaza has been under an Israel-Egyptian economic blockade since 2007 when Hamas took control.
The narrow coastal territory's 2.3 million Palestinian residents have since endured several wars.
US-brokered peace talks, aimed at establishing a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, collapsed in 2014 and show no sign of revival.