Lost for centuries, a rare bronze statue of the Greek god Apollo has mysteriously resurfaced in the Gaza Strip, only to be seized by police and vanish almost immediately from view.
Word of the remarkable find has caught the imagination of the world of archaeology, but the police cannot say when the life-sized bronze might re-emerge or where it might be put on display. A local fisherman says he scooped the 500kg god from the seabed last August and carried it home on a donkey cart, unaware of the significance of his catch.
Others soon guessed at its importance, and the statue briefly appeared on Ebay with a $500,000 price tag – well below its true value. Police from the Islamist group Hamas, who rule the isolated Palestinian territory, swiftly seized it and say they are investigating the affair.
To their great frustration, archaeologists have not been able to get their hands on the Apollo, and instead must pore over a few blurred photographs of the intact deity, who is laid out incongruously on a blanket emblazoned with Smurfs.
From what they can tell it was cast sometime between the 5th and the 1st century BC, making it at least 2,000 years old. “It’s unique. In some ways I would say it is priceless. It’s like people asking what is the (value) of the painting La Gioconda (the Mona Lisa) in the Louvre museum,” said Jean-Michel de Tarragon, a historian with the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem.
“It’s very, very rare to find a statue which is not in marble or in stone, but in metal,” he told Reuters television.
The apparently pristine condition of the god suggested it was uncovered on land and not in the sea, he said, speculating that the true location of where it was unearthed was not revealed to avoid arguments over ownership.
“This wasn’t found on the seashore or in the sea. It is very clean. No, it was (found) inland and dry,” he said, adding that there were no tell-tale signs of metal disfigurement or barnacles that one normally sees on items plucked from water.
Palestinian fisherman Joudat Ghrab tells a different tale. The 26-year-old father of two said he saw a human-like shape lying in shallow waters some 100 metres offshore, just north of the Egyptian-Gaza border.
At first he thought it was a badly burnt body, but when he dived down to take a closer look he realised it was a statue. He says it took him and his relatives four hours to drag the “treasure” ashore.
“I felt it was something gifted to me by God,” the bearded Ghrab told reporters. “My financial situation is very difficult and I am waiting for my reward.”
His mother was less happy when she saw the naked Apollo carried into the house, demanding that his private parts be covered. “My mother said ‘what a disaster you have brought with you’ as she looked at the huge statue,” said the bulky Ghrab. The discoloured green-brown figure shows the youthful, athletic god standing upright on two, muscular legs; he has one arm outstretched, with the palm of his hand held up.
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