Roman Re­mains

Asian Diver (English) - - Contents - By Oliver Jarvis

Text by Oliver Jarvis

Im­ages by var­i­ous con­trib­u­tors

Divers stum­ble on an ex­tra­or­di­nary find in Is­rael – a Roman ship­wreck loaded with arte­facts!

FOR OVER 200 YEARS the most ex­ten­sive po­lit­i­cal and so­cial struc­ture in Western civil­i­sa­tion, the Roman Em­pire, dom­i­nated the land and seas of the Western world. But like all great em­pires, it grew too vast. Over the many years of its de­cline, ter­ri­tory was stolen and land bro­ken up like puz­zle pieces, and its once great ar­chi­tec­ture, ob­jects and em­per­ors sank into ruin, and lay wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered...


Ran Fe­in­stein and Ofer Raanan had no idea that a rou­tine dive would lead them to un­cover the largest assem­blage of Roman marine arte­facts to be re­cov­ered in the past 30 years – marine cargo of an an­cient mer­chant ship. They were div­ing in the an­cient port of Cae­sarea, in Cae­sarea Na­tional Park, one of four past-Roman colonies in the Syria-Phoeni­cia re­gion, lo­cated on Is­rael’s Mediter­ranean coast.

Hav­ing dived here many times, Raanan and his buddy had never found any­thing like this be­fore.

Dur­ing the dive the pair thought noth­ing more of the first sculp­ture they saw on the seabed when they found it, but then they came across a sec­ond. Re­al­is­ing it was some­thing spe­cial, they brought it to the sur­face and con­tacted the Is­rael An­tiq­ui­ties Au­thor­ity (IAA) – a body of the Is­raeli govern­ment that reg­u­lates ex­ca­va­tion and con­ser­va­tion.

A rou­tine dive would lead them to un­cover the largest assem­blage of Roman marine arte­facts to be re­cov­ered in the past 30 years


Later, the IAA dived the site, re­cov­er­ing what was be­lieved to be marine cargo of an an­cient mer­chant ship that sank dur­ing the Late Roman pe­riod, around 1,600 years ago. Once an ex­ten­sive por­tion of the seabed had been cleared of sand, the re­mains of the sunken ship could be seen peep­ing through the sub­strate. Iron an­chors, re­mains of wooden an­chors and items that were used in the con­struc­tion and run­ning of the sail­ing ves­sel were re­cov­ered. An un­der­wa­ter sal­vage sur­vey con­ducted ear­lier this month, us­ing ad­vanced equip­ment, dis­cov­ered nu­mer­ous items that would have been part of the Roman ship’s cargo.

“Th­ese are ex­tremely ex­cit­ing finds,” said Ja­cob Sharvit, Di­rec­tor of the Marine Archae­ol­ogy Unit of the IAA, “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 har­bour and drifted un­til it smashed into the sea wall and the rocks.”

Many of the arte­facts dis­cov­ered are still in great con­di­tion: a bronze lamp de­pict­ing the im­age of the sun god Sol, a fig­urine of the moon god­dess Luna, a lamp in the im­age of the head of an African slave. With life-size bronze cast stat­ues, and ob­jects fash­ioned in the shape of an­i­mals such as a whale, it’s a dis­cov­ery that con­tin­ues to drive the IAA’s ex­plo­ration of the an­cient Cae­sarea har­bour. Only a year be­fore, trea­sure of 2,000 gold Fa­timid coins had been dis­cov­ered by divers and the IAA.


“In re­cent years we have wit­nessed many ran­dom dis­cov­er­ies in the har­bour at Cae­sarea,” said Sharvit. “Th­ese finds are the re­sult of two ma­jor fac­tors: a lack of sand on the seabed caus­ing the ex­po­sure of an­cient arte­facts, and an in­crease in the num­ber of divers at the site.”

Built be­tween 22 BC and 10 BC, Cae­sarea was to be­come a ma­jor port in the Mediter­ranean Sea, host­ing the stan­dard “recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties” that the Ro­mans are fa­mous for: Bath­houses, am­phithe­atres and glo­ri­ous tem­ples were all con­structed for the res­i­dents to en­joy.

Once an ex­ten­sive por­tion of the seabed had been cleared of sand, the re­mains of the sunken ship could be seen peep­ing through the sub­strate

Cae­sarea was a place that be­gan to boom, and stood as the largest port on the eastern Mediter­ranean coast.

But in a sea­side town that is del­i­cately rest­ing on the low-ly­ing beaches of the Mediter­ranean, the risk of be­ing washed away is al­ways go­ing to be a faint con­cern for those re­sid­ing there. At some point in time the port sank; whether this was due to seis­mic ac­tiv­ity that tilted down the struc­tures and caused them to set­tle into the seabed, or a tsunami flooded the shores, sci­en­tists can­not con­firm.

This lat­est dis­cov­ery is bound to ig­nite the imag­i­na­tions of those un­der­wa­ter ex­plor­ers keen to un­cover fur­ther arte­facts that may well be hid­den away around the port, as well as give us a more in­formed view into the Roman his­tory of the eastern Mediter­ranean.

For recre­ational divers, it’s an ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity – the chance to dive into an­cient his­tory.

LEFT The re­mains are be­lieved to be from a cargo ship that sank some 1,600 years ago BELOW The re­cov­ered ar­ti­facts are still in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion, though ex­perts have spec­u­lated they may have been on their way to be re­cy­cled!

ABOVE A trea­sure trove of de­vo­tional stat­ues and other arte­facts–one of the most ex­cit­ing finds in decades!

LEFT Divers Ray Fe­in­stein and Ofer Raanan dis­play some of the ar­ti­facts they played a key role in dis­cov­er­ing ABOVE A hoard of Roman coins fused to­gether af­ter hun­dreds of years at the bot­tom of the ocean

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