From Popular Mechanics
Two recreational divers in Israel recently stumbled upon one of the greatest caches of artifacts from antiquity ever discovered. The recovered treasures include bronze statues of ancient Roman deities and coins bearing the face of Constantine the Great.
Ran Feinstein and Ofer Ra’anan were diving in the ancient port of Caesarae off the coast of Israel when they discovered the cargo of a large merchant ship dating back 1,600 years to the Late Roman period. The two divers reported their find to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), which promptly sent its own divers to the site, where they discovered numerous artifacts previously buried under the sands of the seafloor.
A large portion of the seabed had been cleared away by ocean currents, and the remains of the merchant ship as well as its cargo were left sitting near the top of the sand. Subsequent dives led by the IAA over the past few weeks have brought several artifacts up to the surface, including a bronze lamp depicting the sun god Sol, a figurine of the moon goddess Luna, statues of animal figures such as a wild boar with a swan on its head, and two large metallic lumps weighing about 45 pounds each-each one made up of thousands of coins that fused together in the shape of the pot that contained them.
“These are extremely exciting finds, which, apart from their extraordinary beauty, are of historical significance,” said Jacob Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the IAA, in a press release. “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.”
Sharvit notes that metal statues from antiquity are incredibly rare because they were melted down so the metal could be reused-apparently the intended fate of this ship’s cargo before it sunk to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.
“A marine assemblage such as this has not been found in Israel in the past thirty years,” he says. “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 bear the faces of Emperor Constantine, who ruled from 312 to 337 AD, and one of Constantine’s rivals, Licinius, ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire until Constantine defeated him in battle in 324. Constantine is best known for making Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire.
Another shipwreck was discovered last year near the same ancient port of Caesarae. That find included a cache of gold coins from the Fatimid Caliphate dynasty that ruled Northern Africa from 909 to 1171, and was also recovered by divers from the IAA. The gold coins are currently on display at Caesarae harbor. Once archaeologists have had time to study the recently recovered Roman artifacts, they too will likely be put on display for the public.
There are millions of shipwrecks on the ocean floor waiting to be discovered and explored-many of which are right next to the shore, buried in the sands. Who knows what treasures unwitting divers will happen upon next.
Source: Israel Antiquities Authority