Divers find ancient Roman cargo from 1,600-yr old shipwreck in Israel

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CAESAREA, Israel, May 16 (Reuters) - Archaeologists in Israel have recovered bronze statues and thousands of coins from a merchant ship that sank off the Mediterranean coast some 1,600 years ago during the late Roman period.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said two divers had made the discovery several weeks ago in the ancient harbor of Caesarea in the eastern Mediterranean.

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Successive dives recovered a haul including a bronze lamp depicting the image of sun god Sol, a figure of moon goddess Luna, fragments of life-size bronze cast statues as well as two lumps of thousands of coins.

The IAA said the remains of a ship were "left uncovered on the sea bottom" and included iron anchors and fragments of jars used for drinking water by the crew. The haul's location and distribution suggested the "large merchant ship was carrying a cargo of metal slated (for) recycling."

See some of the treasures discovered on the ship:

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Divers find ancient Roman cargo from 1,600-yr old shipwreck in Israel
An Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) employee holds a part of a statue that according to the IAA, was recovered from a merchant ship dated 1600 years old in the ancient harbor in the Caesarea National Park May 16, 2016. REUTERS/ Baz Ratner
An Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) employee holds an item, which the IAA estimates to be around 1600 years old, after it was recovered from a merchant ship in the ancient harbor of the Caesarea National Park May 16, 2016. REUTERS/ Baz Ratner
Items, which the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) estimate to be around 1600 years old, are displayed after they were recovered from a merchant ship in the ancient harbor of the Caesarea National Park May 16, 2016. REUTERS/ Baz Ratner
Artefacts from a merchant ship that sank off the ancient Mediterranean port of Caesarea 1,600 years ago are presented to the press by Israel's Antiquities Authority on May 16, 2016. The find, happened upon by two divers a few weeks ago who then alerted the authority, consisted primarily of 'metal slated for recycling' borne on the ship from Caesarea in the late Roman period, IAA experts said. / AFP / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
An artefact from a merchant ship that sank off the ancient Mediterranean port of Caesarea 1,600 years ago is presented to the press by Israel's Antiquities Authority on May 16, 2016. The find, happened upon by two divers a few weeks ago who then alerted the authority, consisted primarily of 'metal slated for recycling' borne on the ship from Caesarea in the late Roman period, IAA experts said. / AFP / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Items, which the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) estimate to be around 1600 years old, are displayed after it was recovered from a merchant ship in the ancient harbor of the Caesarea National Park May 16, 2016. REUTERS/ Baz Ratner
Artefacts from a merchant ship that sank off the ancient Mediterranean port of Caesarea 1,600 years ago are presented to the press by Israel's Antiquities Authority on May 16, 2016. The find, happened upon by two divers a few weeks ago who then alerted the authority, consisted primarily of 'metal slated for recycling' borne on the ship from Caesarea in the late Roman period, IAA experts said. / AFP / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Artefacts from a merchant ship that sank off the ancient Mediterranean port of Caesarea 1,600 years ago are presented to the press by Israel's Antiquities Authority on May 16, 2016. The find, happened upon by two divers a few weeks ago who then alerted the authority, consisted primarily of 'metal slated for recycling' borne on the ship from Caesarea in the late Roman period, IAA experts said. / AFP / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Artefacts from a merchant ship that sank off the ancient Mediterranean port of Caesarea 1,600 years ago are presented to the press by Israel's Antiquities Authority on May 16, 2016. The find, happened upon by two divers a few weeks ago who then alerted the authority, consisted primarily of 'metal slated for recycling' borne on the ship from Caesarea in the late Roman period, IAA experts said. / AFP / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Rare bronze artifacts, part of a large ancient marine cargo of a merchant ship that sank during the Late Roman period 1,600 years ago seen during a presentation of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Caesarea, Israel. Monday, May 16, 2016. Israeli archeologists say two divers have made the country's biggest discovery of Roman-era artifacts in three decades. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
An artefact from a merchant ship that sank off the ancient Mediterranean port of Caesarea 1,600 years ago is presented to the press by Israel's Antiquities Authority on May 16, 2016. The find, happened upon by two divers a few weeks ago who then alerted the authority, consisted primarily of 'metal slated for recycling' borne on the ship from Caesarea in the late Roman period, IAA experts said. / AFP / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
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"A marine assemblage such as this has not been found in Israel in the past 30 years," Jacob Sharvit and Dror Planer of the IAA's Marine Archaeology Unit said in a statement.

"Metal statues are rare archaeological finds because they were always melted down and recycled in antiquity."

The IAA said the vessel had probably hit a storm as it entered the harbor and had drifted before hitting rocks and the seawall.

The IAA said the range of items reflected a "period of economic and commercial stability" in the late Roman Empire. It said past marine excavations in Caesarea had uncovered a small number of bronze statues but this haul was much bigger and the sand-protected statues were in "an amazing state" of preservation.

Last year divers found a haul of 1,000-year-old gold coins inscribed in Arabic on the sea bed off Israel.

(Reporting By Reuters Pictures; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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