Ran Feinstein and Ofer Raanan were out for a weekend dive at Caesarea National Park in Israel last month when they noticed a sculpture sticking out of the sea floor. They left it, but when they saw another in the same area, they brought it to the surface. More searching revealed a large area covered in coins, metal sculptures and other artifacts, all the remains of a 1,600-year-old Roman shipwreck.
“It took us a couple of seconds to understand what was going on,” Raanan tells the Associated Press. “It was amazing. I dive here every other weekend and I never found anything like that ever.”
The pair immediately brought their find to the Israel Antiquities Authority, which sent divers out to investigate the debris field. There they discovered wooden and metal anchors and the remains of a ship. According to a press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), in recent weeks, a more thorough survey of the site has uncovered many artifacts including a bronze lamp with the image of the sun god Sol, fragments of life-size bronze statues and bronze objects cast in the shapes of animals. Divers also recovered 45 pounds of coins that had corroded into two masses.
While the statuettes are exciting and beautiful to archaeologists, Romans would have considered them to be trash. According to Jacob Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the IAA, and his deputy Dror Planer, the ship was likely a large merchant vessel carrying a load of old statues and metal destined to be recycled. While it was leaving the ancient port of Caesarea, it probably encountered a storm at the harbor entrance and smashed into the seawall. The sailors likely put out the anchors to try and stop the smash-up.
“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 IAA says in a statement.
Coins from the wreck bear the images of the emperors Constantine and Licinius who ruled during the first half of the fourth century A.D. The artifacts from this find are still undergoing conservation and are not yet on public display. But the largest collection of gold coins ever found in Israel, discovered in the same harbor in early 2015, did recently go on exhibit at Caesarea harbor.