Biblical Archaeology Review 42:6, November/December 2016

Strata: Sunken Cargo at Herod’s Port City

This was not your average day of diving. Divers Ran Feinstein and Ofer Ra‘anan were checking out the underwater ruins of the ancient port city of Caesarea Maritima in Israel when they made a spectacular discovery: a 1,600-year-old trove of bronze statues, coins and other finds that once comprised the cargo of a merchant ship!

Feinstein and Ra‘anan reported what they found to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), which subsequently led to an underwater salvage survey. The Late Roman cargo recovered by the IAA archaeologists includes a bronze lamp depicting the sun god Sol, a figurine of the moon goddess Luna, remains of three life-size bronze statues and thousands of coins that weighed in all 44 pounds.

“A marine assemblage such as this has not been found in Israel in the [past] 30 years,” said Jacob Sharvit, Director of the IAA Marine Archaeology Unit, and Dror Planer, the unit’s Deputy Director. “Metal statues are rare archaeological finds because they were always melted down and recycled in antiquity. When we find bronze artifacts, it usually occurs at sea. Because these statues were wrecked together with the ship, they sank in the water and were thus ‘saved’ from the recycling process.”

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