The cargo of a Roman-era ship that sank off the Mediterranean coast 1,600 years ago has been discovered near Israel, Sky News reports. Divers recovered thousands of coins and fragments of life-size bronze cast statues – described as the country’s most significant discovery of Roman-era artefacts for 30 years.
The Israel Antiques Authority said the finds are in an “amazing state” of preservation thanks to coatings of sand. The remains of the ship were “left uncovered on the sea bottom” and were discovered by two divers last month, with successive trips recovering the haul.
Ofer Raanan, one of the divers who made the initial discovery, described the find as “amazing”, adding: “I dive here every other weekend and I never found anything like that ever.”
The cargo, which also includes animal-shaped objects and bronze lamps, is a rare archaeological find as metal statues of this kind were routinely melted down and recycled during the period.
Previous excavations in the ancient harbour of Caesarea, where the cargo was found, had uncovered some bronze statues but this haul is said to be much larger than previous discoveries.
It is thought the merchant ship was carrying the metal cargo with the intention of recycling it. The IAA said the vessel had most likely hit a storm as it entered Caesarea and had drifted before hitting the seawall and rocks.
The director of marine archaeology at the IAA said some of the objects could be traced back to the fourth century, while other items are from the first and second century.
Last year divers found a stash of gold coins inscribed with Arabic thought to be 1,000 years old on the sea bed off Israel.