Israeli divers discover spectacular treasure trove from 1,600 year old shipwreck

A spectacular trove of cargo from a 1,600 year old merchant shipwreck was discovered by divers in the ancient harbor of Caesarea, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Monday, the largest such find in the past thirty years.

Divers Ran Feinstein and Ofer Ra‘anan of Ra‘anana discovered the remains of a merchant ship which sank in the ancient port of Caesarea during the Late Roman period some 1,600 years ago and reported the find to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Using advanced equipment, archaeologists recovered bronze artifacts in an “extraordinary state of preservation,” according to the Antiquities Authority, including: 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; among others.

“These are extremely exciting finds, which apart from their extraordinary beauty, are of historical significance,” Jacob Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Dror Planer, deputy director of the unit said.

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“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,” 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…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,” they said.

One of the biggest surprises was the discovery of thousands of coins stored for transportation in pottery vessels.

According to the Antiquities Authority, the coins 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.

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Shavit praised Feinstein and Ra‘anan for reporting the trove to the Antiquities Authority. The two divers will be rewarded with a certificate of appreciation.

The new finds will undergo conservation treatment and examination by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A cache of gold coins discovered last winter are currently on display as part of an experiential presentation in the Caesarea harbor.

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The Rothschild Caesarea Foundation has invested tens of millions of shekels for major recovery, conservation, and development projects throughout the Caesarea National Park and the harbor.

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