Israeli Archeologists Unveil Cache of Bells Recovered from Ancient Shipwreck

The Israel Antiquities Authority has published findings from a recent submarine survey, bringing to light a ship’s cargo that sank nearly 1,700 years ago. The scattered findings suggest the ship went down in a powerful storm or explosion sometime during the mid-third or early fourth century in the waters off Caesarea. Caesarea was a major port city built by Herod the Great around 25 BCE on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. A shattered iron anchor found in the debris field gives silent testimony to the ship’s violent demise. 

Recovered from the waters are a trove of antiquities, including a bronze eagle figurine, hundreds of silver and bronze coins, pottery, statuettes, a red gemstone carved with an image of a lyre, and a gold ring bearing a green gemstone engraved with the figure of Christ as the Good Shepherd. In addition, at least 15 metal bells have been culled from the waters. It is thought these were used as talismans to ward off evil spirits.

The ship itself has largely disintegrated over the centuries, but remains of the wooden hull have been preserved by the ocean floor. The ship is believed to have originated in Italy and, having crossed the Mediterranean, was anchored in the shallow waters off Caesarea when disaster struck. The artifacts were found just four meters underwater.

The confluence of Roman, early Christian, and pagan symbols in the wreck supports Caesarea’s position as an ethnically diverse and religiously heterogeneous center for Rome’s activity in the eastern reaches of its empire. Alongside the Roman-era finds, divers also recovered Mamluk-era silver coins in a second nearby shipwreck dating from the fourteenth century.

The collection will be further preserved, recorded, and studied before going on display in area museums and research centers.

Image: Roman-era bells recovered from a shipwreck off the ancient port of Caesarea. Courtesy: Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority.