An underwater survey conducted by divers off Tel Dor, on the Mediterranean Sea, yielded an astonishing find: a rare Roman inscription mentioning the province of Judea – and the name of a previously unknown Roman governor, who ruled the province shortly before the Bar-Kochba Revolt.
Historians had thought that based on Roman records, the leaders Rome imposed on its provinces were all known.
The rock with the 1,900-year-old inscription was exposed by a storm on the seabed at a depth of just 1.5 meters in the bay of Dor. The town had been a thriving port in Roman times that even minted its own coins, which proudly proclaimed the city to be "Ruler of the Seas".
Found by Haifa University archaeologists surveying the remains of the ancient Roman harbor at Dor in January 2016, the rock, 70 by 65 centimeters in size, was partly covered in sea creatures when it was found.
"We knew that another storm would be coming within days, so we decided to extract it rather than risk the stone being reburied in the sand, or damaged," Prof. Assaf Yasur-Landau of Haifa University told Haaretz. In a joint operation with the Nature and Parks Authority and the Israel Antiquities Authority, the heavy stone was raised by divers, and taken to Caesarea for careful cleaning, a process that took four months.
Only then it was possible to read the inscription, heavily worn by the sea, and therein lay a surprise.
Gargilius Antiquus: A name set in stone, twice
The statue base found on the seabed at Dor is only the second known mention of the province of Judea in Roman inscription. The other is the "Pontius Pilate stone" dating to around 100 years earlier. Discovered by archaeologists in 1961 at the ancient theater in Caesarea, it is a rare piece of solid evidence mentioning Pilate, prefect of Judea, by name.