1,800-year-old artifacts found in coastal waters north of Netanya resolve longtime debate

Swimmer hits the jackpot: Israeli researchers have been aware of the shipwrecked cargo for a long time but did not know its exact whereabouts. 

By World Israel News Staff

An enormous, rare cargo of 1,800-year-old marble artifacts, borne in a merchant ship that was shipwrecked in a storm was uncovered recently in the coastal waters of Moshav Beit Yanai, north of Netanya, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Monday in a press release.

The first known cargo of its kind from the eastern Mediterranean, weighing about 44 tons, it includes Corinthian capitals adorned with vegetal patterns, partially carved capitals and marble columns up to six meters long. It seems that these valuable architectural elements were intended to adorn a magnificently elaborate public building—a temple or a theater, according to the IAA.

Gideon Harris, an experienced sea swimmer, contacted the IAA a few weeks ago to report ancient columns that he had observed while swimming in the sea at the Beit Yanai beach. The report was gratefully received by Koby Sharvit, director of the underwater archaeology unit.

“We have been aware of the existence of this shipwrecked cargo for a long time,” Sharvit said, “but we didn’t know its exact whereabouts as it was covered over by sand, and wetherefore could not investigate it. The recent storms must have exposed the cargo, and thanks to Sharvit’s important report, we have been able to register its location, and carry out preliminary archaeological investigations, which will lead to a more in-depth research project.”

It was evident that the ship bearing the cargo was wrecked after the crew encountered a storm in the shallow waters and dropped anchor in a desperate effort to prevent the ship from grounding, Sharvit explained. “Such storms often blow up suddenly along the country’s coast, and due to the ships’ limited maneuvering potential, they are often dragged into the shallow waters and shipwrecked.”

Furthermore, “From the size of the architectural elements, we can calculate the dimensions of the ship; we are talking about a merchant ship that could bear a cargo of at least 200 tons. These fine pieces are characteristic of large-scale, majestic public buildings. Even in Roman Caesarea, such architectural elements were made of local stone covered with white plaster to appear like marble. Here we are talking about genuine marble.”

“Since it is probable that this marble cargo came from the Aegean or Black Sea region, in Turkey or Greece, and since it was discovered south of the port of Caesarea, it seems that it was destined for one of the ports along the southern Levantine coast, Ashkelon or Gaza, or possibly even Alexandria in Egypt,” he surmises.

According to Sharvit, Harris’s report to IAA has resolved an ongoing research issue:

Read  Israeli archaeologists uncover 'magical' artifacts in Eilat mountains

“Land and Sea archaeologists have long argued whether the Roman period imported architectural elements were completely worked in their lands of origin, or whether they were transported in a partially carved form, and were carved and fashioned at their site of destination.

“This cargo resolves the debated issue, as it is evident that the architectural elements left the quarry site as basic raw material or partially worked artifacts and that they were fashioned and finished on the construction site, either by local artists and artisans or by artists who were brought to the site from other countries, similarly to specialist mosaic artists who traveled from site to site following commissioned projects.”

Harris was awarded a certificate of appreciation for good citizenship.

According to Eli Escusido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Gideon’s report epitomizes the value of a citizen’s awareness regarding antiquities, and even more the importance of reporting them to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“The cooperation of the community plays an important role in archaeological research. We ask citizens who come across antiquities in the sea to note the exact location and to call us to the site. This provides invaluable information contributing to the history and cultural heritage of the country.”

Read  Ancient Jewish city to be labeled a 'Palestinian' heritage site by UNESCO