image Photo: IAA

Marble treasure found offshore Israel

An enormous, rare cargo of 1,800-year-old marble artifacts was discovered in the coastal waters north of Netanya.

By Erin Viner

The 44-ton trove Roman period marble architectural pieces was being transported in a merchant ship that was shipwrecked in a storm, said a statement from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) obtained by TV7.

“This is the oldest sea cargo of its kind known in the Eastern Mediterranean, composed of Corinthian capitals decorated with vegetal motifs, partially carved capitals, and huge marble architrave, measuring up to 6 meters long. It seems that these valuable architectural elements were destined for a magnificent public building—a temple or perhaps a theater,” said the statement.

Israeli Gideon Harris ‘re-discovered’ the ancient relics a few weeks ago while swimming in the Mediterranean Sea about 200 meters from the coastline of Moshav Beit Yanai some 6 km north of Netanya. He immediately contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority about his amazing find.

“We have been aware of the existence of this shipwrecked cargo for a long time, but we didn’t know its exact whereabouts as it was covered over by sand, and we could therefore could not investigate it,” said IAA Director of Underwater Archaeology Koby Sharvit. “The recent storms must have exposed the cargo, and thanks to Gideon’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,” he added.

Sharvit explained that due to the position of the site formation and angle of the antiquities on the seabed, it is evident that they had been aboard a vessel that dropped anchor in a desperate attempt to prevent it from grounding. “Such storms often blow up suddenly along the country’s coast,” he said, “and due to the ships’ limited maneuvering potential, they are often dragged into the shallow waters and shipwrecked.”

The discoveries include “fine pieces are characteristic of large-scale, majestic public buildings” made from genuine marble, unlike previous Roman architecture in Caesarea that was built of local stone covered with white plaster.

“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,” said the Underwater Archaeology Director.

The discovery has helped to resolve long-held questions by land and sea archaeologists over the manner in which architectural materials were transported during the Roman era – as to whether they fully completed in their lands of origin or partially carved prior to shipment and finished once reaching the final destination.

“The find of 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,” said the IAA.

Gideon Harris was awarded a certificate of appreciation for good citizenship for his swift and honest notification of the find.

“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,” stated IAA Director Eli Escusido.

He went on to stress, “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.”