Divers find huge trove of late Roman-era artifacts

Two recreational divers exploring off the coast of the Roman-era seaport Caesarea have found what experts are calling one of the most extensive shipwreck finds of the last three decades – a cache of artifacts, statues, and coins believed to be at least 1,600 years old.

According to the Times of Israel, divers Ran Feinstein and Ofer Ra‘anan of Ra’anana had gone to the site of the ancient harbor in the Caesarea National Park last month when they noticed the ship and its treasures, buried in the seafloor but partially exposed by the shifting sands.


Credit: The Times of Israel

They contacted the Israel Antiques Authority (IAA), who then dispatched their own divers to the scene and recovered a bevy of artifacts dating back to the Late Roman period, including a bronze lamp depicting an image of a sun god, a figurine of a moon goddess, fragments of three life-sized bronze statues and a hoard of coins bearing the likeness of Constantine the Great.

In a statement, IAA officials said that the majority of artifacts were “in an extraordinary state of preservation” and also included a lamp in the image of the head of an African slave, objects that were fashioned in the shape of animals, and fragments of large jars that were likely used to carry drinking water for the ship’s crew.

Antiquities officials tout the beauty, historical significance of the find

The bronze statues are said to be extremely rare, and antiquities officials noted that they were being taken to be melted down when the ship sank, thus enabling the seawater to preserve them. One of the biggest surprises, they added, was the discovery of two metallic lumps, each weighing about 20 kg, made of coins and in the shape of the container used to transport them.


Credit: Israel Antiques Authority

Jacob Sharvit, director of the IAA’s Marine Archaeology Unit, and deputy director Dror Planer explained that the “extraordinary beauty” and “historical significance” of the artifacts makes this an “extremely exciting” discovery. The location and distribution of the cargo appear to indicate that the vessel was a merchant ship carrying metal for recycling when it encountered a storm at the harbor’s entrance, causing it to drift into the seawall and the rocks there.

Preliminary analysis of the ship’s iron anchors suggest that the crew attempted to stop the ship before it washed ashore by dropping the anchors into the sea. Their attempts were unsuccessful, however, as the anchors apparently broke due to the high-speed winds and powerful waves they encountered, according to Sharvit and Planer.

“A marine assemblage such as this has not been found in Israel in the past thirty years,” the IAA officials said. “Metal statues are rare archaeological finds because they were always melted down and recycled in antiquity. When we find bronze artifacts it usually occurs at sea. Because these statues were wrecked together with the ship, they sank in the water and were thus ‘saved’ from the recycling process.”

“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 duo added. “The range of finds recovered from the sea reflects the large volume of trade and the status of Caesarea’s harbor during this time, which was known as period of economic and commercial stability in the wake of the stability of the Roman Empire.”


Image Credit: Israel Antiques Authority