A unique collection of ancient earthenware vessels found in the Mediterranean Sea has been turned over to the Israel Antiquities Authority, following the death of the fisherman who originally brought them up in his nets many years ago. The oldest vessel in the collection is estimated to be about 3,000 years old.
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Osnat Lester of Poriya Ilit contacted the Antiquities Authority a few days ago to say that she had several old jugs in her storage closet that had been left to her by a relative who was a fisherman. Two archaeologists from the authority went to her house to check out the collection, and were stunned to discover a real archaeological treasure.
The cloth-wrapped vessels displayed the characteristic pitting of artifacts that have been underwater for many years. The archaeologists said they probably came from some of the ships that have been wrecked off the coast throughout history.
Among the most stunning findings was a unique storage vessel characteristic of the late Biblical period, some 3,000 years ago. It has high basket handles and impressive dimensions. There were also vessels from the Roman period, some 2,000 years ago, as well as the Byzantine period, about 1,500 years ago. The vessels held wine and other products.
“He was a naïve fisherman whose entire world was fishing,” Lester said. “He loved whatever he drew from the water. The fish he ate, and the vessels he kept. He thought they were pretty and could perhaps decorate the house. He never imagined that they were ancient vessels.
“When I saw them, I also thought they were perhaps 100 years old,” she continued. “The only thing we’ve asked of the Antiquities Authority is to tell us where the vessels are going, so that we can visit them with the grandchildren.”
Seaborne trade along what is now the Israeli coast began in the Bronze Age, some 5,000 years ago. Throughout most of history, the eastern Mediterranean has served as a maritime passage between Egypt and Lebanon, and many vessels have sunk there. It’s rare to find a relatively intact wreck from which antiquities can be removed. But fisherman who use nets occasionally dredge up pieces of these wrecked ships.