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Israeli divers uncover trove of shipwrecked Roman treasure

A chance discovery by two Israeli divers uncovered the country's biggest find of underwater Roman-era artefacts in three decades, archaeologists said as the priceless objects were showcased for the first time.

The treasures were discovered last month by divers Ran Feinstein and Ofer Raanan when they happened on an ancient shipwreck close to the ancient port of Caesarea.

Standing next to his diving buddy, Mr Raanan recounted the moment the pair realised they had come across something special.

"It took us a couple of seconds to understand what was going on," he recalled.

He said they left the first sculpture on the seabed when they found it, but then when they discovered a second one they realised it might be significant and brought it to the surface. They later searched the area and uncovered more ancient artefacts.

"It was amazing, I dive here every other weekend and I never found anything like that ever," he said.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) sent down its divers to investigate further and recover the precious Roman-era cargo, which includes bronze statues, lamps, jars, animal-shaped objects, anchors and thousands of coins featuring images of Roman emperors Constantine and Licinius.

Some of the objects date back to the fourth century, while others are from the first and second century, Jacob Sharvit, director of marine archaeology at the IAA, said.

After possibly encountering a storm, sailors threw down the anchors in an effort to save the ship, Mr Sharvit said, but all their attempts failed. The ship drifted and all its cargo plunged into the Caesarea port waters and remained there for 1,700 years.

The port of Caesarea was commissioned by Herod the Great in the first century BC and became an important economic artery in the Mediterranean Sea until it sunk for unknown reasons soon after its completion. Some scientists believe it is located on a geological fault line; other theories point to a series of earthquakes or even a big tsunami.

Starting from the 1960s, Israeli archaeologists brought the sunken port back to life, along with Caesarea's above-ground wonders, including the crusaders' church and Roman theatre. Today the land-level archaeological treasures are open to visitors and are part of the Caesarea National Park.

Last year, Israeli divers found 2,000 gold coins in Caesarea dating back to the 10th century.

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