Technology & Science

Israeli divers find ancient Roman shipwreck full of treasure

A chance discovery by two divers uncovered Israel's biggest find of underwater Roman-era artifacts in three decades.

Meanwhile, ancient Roman barracks found during metro upgrades in Rome

Divers find ancient cargo from 1,600-year-old shipwreck 1:44

A chance discovery by two divers uncovered Israel's biggest find of underwater Roman-era artifacts in three decades, archaeologists said Monday as the priceless objects were showcased for the first time.

The treasures were found last month by divers Ran Feinstein and Ofer Raanan when they came across an ancient shipwreck near the port of Caesarea, located on Israel's Mediterranean coast.

Jacob Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, holds a bronze lamp depicting the image of a Roman sun god Sol Invictus. Some of the objects date to the fourth century, while others are from the first and second centuries, said Sharvit. (Dan Balilty/Associated Press)

Standing next to his diving buddy, Raanan recounted the moment the pair realized they had discovered 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, 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 sent its divers to investigate and recover the precious Roman-era cargo, which includes bronze statues, lamps, jars, animal-shaped objects, anchors and thousands of coins with images of Roman emperors Constantine and Licinius.

Israeli archeologists say two divers have made the country's biggest discovery of Roman-era artifacts in three decades. (Dan Balilty/Associated Press)

Some of the objects date to the fourth century, while others are from the first and second centuries, said Jacob Sharvit, director of marine archaeology at the IAA.

After possibly encountering a storm, sailors dropped the anchors to try to save the ship, Sharvit said, but all their attempts failed; the ship drifted and all its cargo plunged into the water at Caesarea and remained there for 1,700 years.

The port at Caesarea was commissioned by Herod the Great in the first century BC and became an important economic artery in the Mediterranean Sea until it sank for unknown reasons soon after its completion. Some scientists believe it is located on a geological fault line; other theories point to a tsunami.

Starting in the 1960s, Israeli archaeologists brought the sunken port back to life, along with Caesarea's above-ground wonders, including a crusader church and Roman theater. These archaeological treasures are open to visitors as part of the Caesarea National Park.

Last year, Israeli divers found 2,000 gold coins in Caesarea dating to the 10th century.

Roman barracks found in Rome

Meanwhile, other Roman treasures were uncovered Monday during work to upgrade Rome's public transport.

Culture ministry officials on Monday showed reporters where work on the city's third subway line unearthed barracks for Roman Praetorian guards dating from the second century.

While construction workers poured concrete at the planned Amba Aradam metro stop, an archaeologist just a few meters away brushed dirt from a small bronze bracelet.

Ancient roman ruins and mosaics have been discovered during work on a new underground line in Rome. They were barracks for the Roman Praetorian guards dating back to the period of Emperor Hadrian, in the second century A.D. Officials say the barracks cover 900 square meters, and include a 100 metre hallway with 39 rooms. (Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press)

The barracks, discovered nine metres (about 30 feet) below street level, cover 900 square meters (9600 square feet) and include a long hallway and 39 rooms decorated with black-and-white mosaics on the floors and frescoed walls.

"It's exceptional, not only for its good state of conservation but because it is part of a neighbourhood which already included four barracks," said Rossella Rea of the Culture Ministry. "And therefore, we can characterize this area as a military neighbourhood."

Archaeologists have also found a collective grave at the barracks, where they have so far discovered 13 adult skeletons along with a bronze coin and a bronze bracelet.

Officials hope to incorporate the discovery into the new metro station, which is scheduled to open in 2020. Work on Rome's Metro Line C has been beset by delays due to corruption probes and funding shortages since launching in 2007.