When you hear about amateur divers stumbling across some treasure, you’d probably expect a moldy coin and an old boot. However, these Roman-era artifacts discovered in the waters off Israel by a pair of amateur divers are truly fascinating.
Ran Feinstein and Ofer Raanan were exploring a Roman shipwreck off the coast of Caesarea last month. After spotting two sculptures nestled in the seabed, they realized they had stumbled across something special. They alerted the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), who sent in their own team of divers and archaeologists to investigate further.
“It was amazing. I dive here every other weekend and I’ve never found anything like that, ever,” Raanan told the Associated Press.
Researchers found two lumps of coins which weighed around 20 kilograms (44 pounds). Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
This is the largest sunken treasure trove found in Israeli waters for 30 years, but it is the quality condition of the artifacts that holds the true value. Being buried in the sand protected them, meaning the artifacts haven’t been touched since they went down with the ship.
Among the find were three life-size bronze cast statues, figurines of animals, small statues of the Moon goddess Luna and the god of wine Dionysus, metal lamps, drinking water jars, and thousands of coins bearing the image of the Roman emperors Constantine and Licinius. These two leaders ruled around the fourth century CE, providing the researchers with some sturdy evidence that this shipwreck dates from sometime at least 1,600 years ago.
Two statues depicting Roman era gods. Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
The port city of Caesarea was rebuilt and developed by Herod the Great between 22 to 10 BCE. Its location on the Mediterranean coast meant it quickly became an important hub for the Roman Empire, which brings some heavy historical significance to the find.
As the IAA explained in a statement, “The crew of the shipwreck lived in a fascinating time in history that greatly influenced humanity – the period when Christianity was on its way to becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire.”
Jacob Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit at the IAA, went on to explain how their researchers are getting closer to unpicking the story of this ship’s demise.
“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,” he said.