Marie-Louise Brimmer, National Geographic Society

Like the proverbial needle in a haystack, the lid of an anthropoid, or human-shaped, coffin stares out of a sand dune at Deir el-Balah. Located about 10 miles southwest of Gaza, Deir el-Balah has yielded the largest and richest cache of anthropoid coffins ever found in Canaan, nearly 50 in all, most of which were found through illicit digging. When Israeli archaeologist Trude Dothan went to search for the source of these lids, which she had seen in antiquities shops and traced to the region by the sand left on them, she confronted miles and miles of dunes; but there was no tell, the mound that usually covers an ancient settlement, to indicate where she should dig. Only with the aid of local Bedouin and heavy earth-moving machinery did Dothan manage to find a cemetery with four anthropoid coffins in situ, the village of the artisans who made the coffins, and an earlier settlement.