Ship Full Of Ancient Roman Cargo Slated For Recycling 1,600 Years Ago Unearthed

Shelley Hazen

The ancient world had something in common with the modern one: a penchant for recycling. While that's good for the environment, that means plenty of historical treasures were melted down and turned into something else.

But 1,600 years ago, a shipload of Ancient Roman cargo was in the Mediterranean seaport of Caeserea in Israel, stuffed to the gills with metal slated for recycling, the Times of Israel reported.

That metal would never be recycled. Instead, the merchant vessel sailed into a storm at the entrance to the harbor. It drifted in the water until it smashed into a seawall and rocks. Israel Antiquities Authority director Jacob Sharvit and deputy director Dror Planer said both cargo and ship wrecked together, and therefore the treasures inside were "saved from the recycling process."

The ancient crew tried their best to save the sinking ship and its recyclable cargo by dropping anchors into the sea, but to no avail, Sharvit and Planer said.

"These broke – evidence of the power of the waves and the wind which the ship was caught up in."

Ran and Ofer contacted the IAA right away, and the agency sent their own divers to examine the site. Archaeologists employed some specialized equipment and began an underwater salvage survey to take a closer look.

Eventually, they uncovered something remarkable: the largest stash of marine artifacts found in Israel in 30 years, including iron anchors, coins, and bronze statues. The directors of the IAA spoke in grand terms about the find.

"The sand protected them. They are in an amazing state of preservation – as though they were cast yesterday rather than 1,600 years ago. These are extremely exciting finds, which apart from their extraordinary beauty, are of historical significance."

Among the treasures in the Ancient Roman cargo: a bronze lamp featuring the sun god Sol, a figurine of the moon goddess Luna, a lamp shaped like the head of an African slave, the remnants of three life-size bronze statues, and various objects shaped like animals, Discovery reported.

According to the IAA, they found "objects fashioned in the shape of animals such as a whale [and] a bronze faucet in the form of a wild boar with a swan on its head," and all of them "in an amazing state of preservation."

Metal statues like those found among this Ancient Roman cargo are rare finds in the world of archaeology because such items were "always melted down and recycled in antiquity."

They also uncovered two metallic lumps that turned out to be hunks of thousands of coins fused together and shaped like the pottery vessel they were transported in 1,600 years ago. The lumps weighed about 40 pounds and featured the images of Constantine the Great and of Licinius.

Emperor Constantine ruled the eastern half of the Roman empire and came to be known as Constantine the Great. Licinius was his rival and ruled the eastern part of the Empire. These two men co-authored an edict that officially tolerated Christianity within the Ancient Roman empire. Licinius eventually submitted to Constantine after the Battle of Chrysopolis in 324 AD.

According to the IAA, the Ancient Roman cargo reflect a period of "economic and commercial stability in the wake of the stability of the Roman Empire," during in which "Christianity was on its way to becoming the official religion," Agence France Press added.

[Photo by Dan Balilty/AP Images]