Gold Rings, Ancient Coins and Early Christian Art Found in Shipwrecks Off Israel's Coast

Israel Antiquities Authority discovered the two shipwrecks, separated by nearly 1,000 years, off the coast of Caesarea

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A gold ring engraved with the figure of the Good Shepherd discovered off the coast of Caesarea.
A gold ring engraved with the figure of the Good Shepherd discovered off the coast of Caesarea.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
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Haaretz

Israeli archaeologists have discovered a treasure trove of Roman and Mamluk artifacts from two ancient shipwrecks that sank off the coast of the ancient port city of Caesarea nearly a thousand years apart, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced on Wednesday.

According to the authority, the treasure — which includes a horde of gold coins, a gold ring engraved with the figure of the Good Shepherd, a well-known symbol of Jesus in early Christian art, and a bronze figurine in the form of an eagle, symbolizing Roman rule — was found scattered four meters (13 feet) down on the sea floor near the remains of the ships’ wrecked hulls.

The ships, which have been dated to approximately 1,700 and 600 years ago, respectively, “were probably anchored nearby and were wrecked by a storm,” said Jacob Sharvit and Dror Planer of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Marine Archaeology Unit.

A gold ring engraved with the figure of the Good Shepherd discovered off the coast of Caesarea.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
A coin discovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority marine archaeology survey off the coast of Caesarea.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

“They may have been anchored offshore after getting into difficulty, or fearing stormy weather, because sailors knew well that mooring in shallow, open water outside a port is dangerous and prone to disaster," he said.

Other finds included a figurine of a Roman pantomimus in a comic mask; numerous bronze bells intended among other things to ward off evil spirits; and pottery vessels, as well as including dozens of large bronze nails, lead pipes from a bilge pump, and a large iron anchor broken.

A statue of a masked mime discovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority marine archaeology survey off the coast of Caesarea. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
A ruby found off the coast of Ceasera.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Of special note, the Antiquities Authority said, were personal effects found in the wreckage, including the Good Shepherd ring, “a thick, octagonal gold ring set with a green gemstone carved with the figure of a young shepherd boy,” and a “gemma ring” containing a red gemstone featuring a carving of a lyre, the ancient instrument which the Bible says David played to help sooth King Saul.

“Israel’s coasts are rich in sites and finds that are immensely important national and are international cultural heritage assets,” Antiquities Authority director Eli Eskozido said in a press release noting Caesarea’s “great significance in Christian tradition.”

A bronze statue of a falcon found in wreaks of a ship off the coast of Ceasera.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
An ancient inkwell and case found in a shipwreck off the coast of Ceasera.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

“They are extremely vulnerable, which is why the Israel Antiquities Authority conducts underwater surveys to locate, monitor and salvage any antiquities,” he said, urging people to report any ancient finds they may come across while engaged in water sports.

“The discovery and documentation of artifacts at their original find spot has tremendous archaeological importance and sometimes even a small find leads to a great discovery.”

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