Antiquities officials revealed on May 16 that two recreational divers discovered a 1,600-year-old shipwreck on the seabed off the coast of Israel, which ultimately led to a salvage operation that uncovered one of the largest caches of marine artifacts ever found.
The Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement that the hoard had been discovered off the coast of Caesarea, which had been a major Roman-era seaport, sometime in April. The Israel Antiquities Authority also said that the find was the most extensive underwater discovery in 30 years.
The IAA said that some of the pieces that were brought to the surface were a bronze lamp that showed the image of the sun god Sol, a figurine of the moon goddess Luna, a lamp in the image of the head of an African slave, fragments of three life-size bronze cast statues, objects made in the shape of animals such as a whale, and a bronze faucet in the form of a wild boar with a swan on its head.
Fragments of the jars that the crew had used to store water were also discovered.
Experts believe that the finds were from a large merchant ship that was carrying metal slated for reuse when it ran into a storm near the harbor and smashed into the seawall and rocks.
“A preliminary study of the iron anchors suggests there was an attempt to stop the drifting vessel before it reached shore by casting anchors into the sea; however, these broke – evidence of the power of the waves and the wind which the ship was caught up in,” the statement said.
Ran Feinstein and Ofer Ra’anan of Ra’anana had been diving at the site of the ancient harbor in the Caesarea National Park before Passover this past April when they noticed that shifting sand had exposed the remains of a ship and its contents.
The divers immediately contacted the IAA, which then sent down archeologists to take a look.
To their delight, the team spotted “iron anchors, remains of wooden anchors and items that were used in the construction and running of the sailing vessel,” the authority said.
Feinstein and Ra’anan will be awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by the IAA and given a personal tour of the IAA’s storeroom as a reward for being good citizens.
Jacob Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Dror Planer, deputy director of the unit, dated the ship to sometime during the Late Roman Period or 3rd-4th century CE.
In the weeks after Feinstein and Ra’anan’s discovery, IAA divers and volunteers carried out an underwater salvage survey and were able to find and recover many items from the cargo using specialized equipment.
The bronze statues are especially rare. The statues were supposed to be melted down, but instead, they sank and were preserved by the seawater.
“In the many marine excavations that have been carried out in Caesarea only very small number of bronze statues have been found, whereas in the current cargo a wealth of spectacular statues were found that were in the city and were removed from it by way of sea. The sand protected the statues; consequently they are in an amazing state of preservation – as though they were cast yesterday rather than 1,600 years ago,” the IAA said.
Two lumps, which together weighed 20 kilograms, were also discovered. The lumps were made up of thousands of coins that had retained the shape of the long disintegrated pottery vessel in which they had been transported.
“The coins that were discovered bear the image of the emperor Constantine who ruled the Western Roman Empire (312–324 CE) and was later known as Constantine the Great, ruler of the Roman Empire (324–337 CE), and of Licinius, an emperor who ruled the eastern part of the Roman Empire and was a rival of Constantine, until his downfall in a battle that was waged between the two rulers,” the IAA said.
Back in 2015, a treasure trove of Fatimid gold coins was discovered in the sea at Caesarea.