CAESAREA, Israel— Ancient artifacts hidden for centuries beneath the sea were discovered by chance when two Israeli divers stumbled upon the country’s biggest find of underwater Roman-era artifacts in three decades, archeologists said on Monday as the priceless objects were presented for the first time.
The Roman-era treasures were discovered last month by divers Ran Feinstein and Ofer Raanan when they happened on an ancient shipwreck close to the ancient port of Caesarea.
Standing next to his diving buddy, Raanan recounted the moment the pair realized they had come across something special.
“It took us a couple of seconds to understand what was going on,” Raanan recalled. He said they left the first sculpture on the seabed when they found it, but then when they discovered a second one they realized it was something special and brought it to the surface. They later searched the area and uncovered more ancient artifacts.
“It was amazing, I dive here every other weekend and I never found anything like that ever,” he said.
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) sent down its divers to investigate further and recover the precious Roman-era cargo, which includes bronze statues, lamps, jars, animal-shaped objects, anchors and thousands of coins featuring images of Roman emperors Constantine and Licinius.
Some of the objects date back to the fourth century, while others are from the first and second century, Jacob Sharvit, director of marine archaeology at the IAA said.
After possibly encountering a storm, sailors threw down the anchors in an effort to save the ship, Sharvit said, but all their attempts failed; the ship drifted and all its cargo plunged into the Caesarea port waters and remained there for 1,700 years.
The port of Caesarea was commissioned by Herod the Great in the 1st century BC and became an important economic artery in the Mediterranean Sea until it sunk for unknown reasons soon after its completion. Some scientists believe it is located on a geological fault line; other theories point to a series of earthquakes or even a big tsunami.
Starting from the 1960s, Israeli archeologists brought the sunken port back to life, along with Caesarea’s above-ground wonders, including the crusaders’ church and Roman theatre. Today the land-level archaeological treasures are open to visitors, and are part of the Caesarea National Park.
Last year, Israeli divers found 2,000 gold coins in Caesarea dating back to the 10th century.