On Thursday, Libya’s Ministry of Interior announced the discovery of an ancient cemetery in the city of Misrata, dating back to the Roman, and pre-dynastic eras.
In a statement, it said that a report was received by the Tourism Police and Antiquities Protection Authority regarding the discovery of an archaeological site, by the Misrata Public Works Company. This was as it was carrying out dredging and cleaning works of the seashore in the Abu Fatimah Ras Al-Kom area.
The ministry added that the “archaeological site was an ancient Roman cemetery containing human skeletons whose features are almost indistinct.”
It confirmed that legal measures were taken regarding the site, and that the report was referred to the Public Order Prosecution in terms of jurisdiction.
Notably, Libya played an important role in ancient empires, like Carthage, Achaemenid Persia, and Rome. For example, the ancient settlement of Leptis Magna, located within present-day Al-Khums, in North-western Libya, grew into a strategic Roman stronghold in North Africa by the late Republic era.
Much of the growth had to do with the fertile farmlands surrounding the settlement, along with the profusion of olive groves in the area – so much so that the city was levied by Emperor Caesar with a tax of three million pounds of oil annually.
Notably, archaeological sites along the Libyan shoreline are at risk of being damaged or disappearing due to increasing coastal erosion, according to a study prepared by the PLOS ONE magazine.
The eastern coast, stretching from the Gulf of Sirte to the current Egyptian border, has a long history of human occupation back to the Paleolithic era. Therefore, it hosts numerous important, and often understudied archaeological sites.
However, the coastline also experiences high rates of erosion, which threatens to damage or even erase many of these important sites. Detailed assessments of coastal erosion and the vulnerability of archaeological sites are available for other important coastlines, but not for Libya.
The study combined historical and modern records of the Cyrenaican shoreline using aerial and satellite imagery. As well as field observation to assess patterns of coastal erosion near important archaeological sites.
Near the sites of Apollonia, Ptolemais, and Tocra, the study identified extensive shoreline erosion and increasing rates of erosion in recent years, likely linked to human activities such as sand mining and urbanization.
The results showed that current rates of coastal erosion are already a major problem for these sites. These are likely to increase in the future, with further human activities and rising sea levels due to climate change. This puts these sites at risk of progressive damage, and loss of valuable historical information.