Two divers have likely discovered the greatest find in their life. The discovery includes statues and thousands of coins from a merchant ship that sank during the Late Roman period over a thousand years ago.
The two divers, Ran Feinstein and Ofer Ra‘anan, were diving in the waters around the ancient harbor in the Caesarea National Park. After finding two Late Roman bronze statues, the divers reported the finds to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).
A joint dive was then conducted with IAA archaeologists, where an extensive portion of the seabed had been cleared of sand. What was reviled were the remains of a ship, iron anchors, wooden anchors, and items that were used in the construction and running of the sailing vessel, IAA wrote in a press release. Officials said that:
“Many of the artifacts are bronze, and in an extraordinary state of preservation.”
Among the finds there was a bronze lamp depicting 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 fashioned in the shape of animals such as a whale, a bronze faucet in the form of a wild boar with a swan on its head.
One of the more surprising finds was two metallic lumps of thousands of coins weighing 44lbs (20 kg). The bronze statues and coins have been dated to the 5th century A.D. Jacob Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said:
“These are extremely exciting finds, which apart from their extraordinary beauty, are of historical significance.
“The location and distribution of the ancient finds on the seabed indicate that a large merchant ship was carrying a cargo of metal slated recycling, which apparently encountered a storm at the entrance to the harbor and drifted until it smashed into the seawall and the rocks.”
“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.
“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 coins have the image of two emperors; the emperor Constantine who ruled the Western Roman Empire (312–324 CE) and later became known as Constantine the Great, ruler of the Roman Empire (324–337 CE). The other emperor was Licinius, an emperor who ruled the eastern part of the Roman Empire, who was a rival of Constantine.
The discovery reveals the high volume of trade and the status of Caesarea’s harbor 1,600 years ago, Sharvit said, which was known as a period of economic and commercial stability. The shipwreck happened at a “fascinating time in history” in which Christianity was on its way to becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire, Sharvit added.