Coins of different eras recovered from shipwrecks off Israel’s coast
- Published: Jan 1, 2022, 12 PM
An Israel Antiquities Authority marine archaeology survey off the coast of Caesarea has recovered treasure from two ancient shipwrecks, including hundreds of silver coins, figurines and a gold ring engraved with the figure of the Good Shepherd, a well-known symbol of Jesus in early Christian art.
According to the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Marine Archaeology Unit, “The finds reveal the story of two ships that sank with all hands in different periods, apparently while attempting to maneuver the vessels into port.”
The finds were announced in late December.
A number of artifacts from the wrecks of two ships that foundered off the coast of Caesarea, one in the Roman period, the other in the Mamluk period (some 1,700 and 600 years ago, respectively) were recovered in recent months near Caesarea, during an underwater survey conducted by the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The two ships’ cargoes and the remains of their wrecked hulls were found scattered on the sea floor in shallow water, at a depth of about 4 meters.
According to Jacob Sharvit and Dror Planer of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Marine Archaeology Unit, “The ships were probably anchored nearby and were wrecked by a storm. They may have been anchored offshore after getting into difficulty, or fearing stormy weather, because sailors know well that mooring in shallow, open water outside of a port is dangerous and prone to disaster.”
The marine treasure includes hundreds of silver and bronze Roman coins from the mid-third century A.D. and a large hoard of about 560 silver coins from the Mamluk period (the 14th century) and a large amount of smaller ribbon cut like pieces.
Also included are figurines, metal parts from the hull of a wooden ship, and a large iron anchor broken in pieces — attesting to the force it withstood before finally snapping, probably in the storm that sank the associated ship.
The underwater remains include rare personal effects of the shipwreck victims. Among these are a beautiful red gemstone for setting in a “gemma” ring; the carving of the gemstone shows a lyre.
Another rare find is a thick, octagonal gold ring set with a green gemstone carved with the figure of a young shepherd boy dressed in a tunic and bearing a ram or a sheep on his shoulders. The image, of the “Good Shepherd,” is one of the earliest and oldest images used in Christianity for symbolizing Jesus, notes the IAA.
It represents Jesus as humanity’s compassionate shepherd, extending his benevolence to his flock of believers and all mankind, the IAA said.
The ring was discovered near the port of Caesarea, a site of great significance in Christian tradition. Caesarea was one of the earliest centers of Christianity and housed one of the first Christian communities.
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