A stone statue of an ancient goddess of beauty, love and war has been found in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian archaeologists say the head of the Canaanite deity Anat dates back to 4,500 years, the late Bronze Age.
The discovery was made by a farmer who was digging on his land in Khan Younis, in the south of the range.
On social media, some Gazans scoffed that finding a statue of the goddess of war is appropriate in the region. In recent years, the area has been the scene of intense conflict between Israel and militant groups in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas.
The discovery of this limestone statue is a reminder of how the Gaza Strip — part of an important trade route for successive ancient civilizations — was originally a Canaanite settlement.
The 22 cm tall sculpture shows the face of the goddess wearing a serpent crown.
“We found the statue by chance. It was full of mud and we washed it off with water,” said farmer Nidal Abu Eid, who found the head while cultivating his field.
“We realized it was a precious thing, but we didn’t know it had such great archaeological value,” he told the BBC. “We thank God and are proud that he has remained in our land in Palestine since Canaanite times.”
The statue of Anat — one of the best-known Canaanite deities — is now on display in Qasr al-Basha, a historic building that serves as one of Gaza’s few museums.
Gaza used to be on important trade routes for ancient civilizations and is still home to many ancient treasures today.
Unveiling the artifact at a news conference on Tuesday, Jamal Abu Rida of the Hamas-run Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said the statue was “weather-resistant” and had been carefully examined by experts.
He said this brings a political lesson.
“Such discoveries prove that Palestine has civilization and history, and no one can deny or falsify that history,” he said. “This is the Palestinian people and their ancient Canaanite civilization.”
Not all archaeological finds in Gaza were appreciated in the same way.
Hamas has already been accused of destroying the remains of a large Canaanite fortified city, Tell al-Sakan, to make way for housing and military bases south of Gaza City.
An ancient man-sized bronze of the Greek god Apollo was discovered by a fisherman in 2013, but then mysteriously disappeared.
However, this year Hamas reopened the remains of a 5th-century Byzantine church after foreign donors helped pay for a years-old restoration project.
Work also had to be stopped at a construction site in northern Gaza when 31 Roman-era graves were found.
While these ancient sites may attract foreign visitors, there is virtually no tourism industry.
Israel and Egypt heavily restrict the flow of people in and out of Gaza, which is home to some 2.3 million Palestinians, citing security concerns.