A veritable treasure trove of artifacts were discovered by two recreational divers recently just off the coast of Israel.
The two men, Ran Feinstein and Ofer Ra‘anan, decided to go diving just before the Passover holiday just off the coast of the ancient port of Caesarea in the Caesarea National Park. As soon as they reached the ocean floor they noticed several bronze artifacts. The collected a few smaller bronze pieces and upon resurfacing immediately contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority(IAA) to report the find.
Archaeologists from the IAA then accompanied the two men on a subsequent dive and what they found almost belies belief. It appears as though a large section of sand had shifted in the harbour and in it's wake revealed the remains of a shipwreck on the ocean's floor.
Amongst the varied finds were discovered a small hoard of ancient bronze Roman coins. The coins were discovered fused to each other in two lumps still holding the shape of the broken amphora that they were apparently stored in.
The coins examined so far all bear the image of Constantine the Great and Licinius. Licinius was emperor of the eastern empire until from 308 to 324 CE while Constantine ruled from 306 to 337 CE. This makes dating the wreck a relatively simple task.
Other notable items discovered were numerous bronze statues including a bronze lamp in the shape of the Roman sun god Sol, various pottery shards from broken amphoras and a few glass fragments. A bronze bust of the moon goddess Luna was also recovered, along with a bronze faucet shaped like a wild boar with a swan on its head and a small lamp cast to look like the head of an African slave.
The director of the Marine Archeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Jacob Sharvit, and the deputy director of that unit, Dror Planer, had the following to say about the discovery:
“These are extremely exciting finds, which apart from their extraordinary beauty, are of historical significance... A marine assemblage such as this has not been found in Israel in the past thirty years. 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”. Sharvit and Planer added, “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”
Remains of the ship itself were also found including the almost intact anchor, nails and other fittings used in the ships construction.
Sharvit and Planer went on to explain that the working hypothesis is that the vessel in question must have been a cargo ship, laden with metal destined for recycling, that either ran ashore or was capsized during a storm.
“The location and distribution of the ancient finds on the seabed indicate that a large merchant ship was carrying a cargo of metal slated for recycling, which apparently encountered a storm at the entrance to the harbor and drifted until it smashed into the seawall and the rocks. A preliminary study of the iron anchors suggests there was an attempt to stop the drifting vessel before it reached the shore by casting [the] anchors into the sea. However, these broke – evidence of the power of the waves and the wind which the ship was caught up in”
This discovery comes approcimately a year after the discovery of a large hoard of over 2500 gold Fatimid coins(dating from 909 to 1171 CE) were also discovered in the waters of Caesarea.
The two men who made the discovery are to be awarded a certificate of appreciation by the IAA and granted a private tour of the IAA's archive facility as a reward.
All images courtesy of Reuters and the Israel Antiquities Authority