Divers Discover 1,600-Year-Old Sunken Treasure From a Roman Shipwreck

May 20, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

Fragment of a bronze mask on the seafloor
Photo credit: Screen capture from video by the Israel Antiquities Authority Official Channel

Perfectly preserved bronze statues and thousands of coins were recovered.

Amateur Israeli divers Ran Feinstein and Ofer Ra‘anan were exploring a shipwreck near the ancient port of Caesarea in western Israel last month when they happened across what is probably the country’s largest underwater discovery of Roman-era artifacts in 30 years.

Archaeologists at the Israel Antiquities Authority went to investigate, and encountered a seabed littered with perfectly preserved marine cargo.

Many of the artifacts are bronze: a bronze lamp with the image of the sun god Sol; a figurine of the moon goddess Luna; a lamp depicting the head of an African slave; fragments of three life-size bronze cast statues; objects cast in the shapes of animals; and a bronze faucet in the form of a wild boar with a swan on its head were among the incredible finds.

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“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,” said Jacob Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Dror Planer, deputy director of the unit, in a press release.

Fragments of large jars were also uncovered, which would have been used for carrying drinking water for the crew of the ship.

The archaeologists were especially surprised to discover 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of coins that had corroded into the shape of the pottery vessel in which they were kept. The coins bear the images of 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.

“These are extremely exciting finds, which apart from their extraordinary beauty, are of historical significance,” said Sharvit and Planer.

The ship was carrying a cargo of metal slated for recycling when it was struck by a storm. Preliminary study suggests that iron anchors were cast in an attempt to halt the drifting vessel before it reached the shore, but the anchors broke under the power of the storm’s waves and wind.

Watch divers explore the wreckage:


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