Under the sea: antiquities make way for Israel's Leviathan pipeline

DOR BEACH, Israel, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Underwater archaeologists have been scouring the seabed where a gas pipeline is being built off Israel's coast in a bid to preserve relics near a 5,000-year-old port which once was a key trade hub for the Mediterranean's ancient civilizations.

The pipeline from the deep-sea Leviathan gas field that is due to begin production late next year comes ashore near Dor Beach in northern Israel, a popular spot among Israeli sunbathers.

It is also the site of the ancient port of Dor, where hidden in the seabed lie the vestiges of marine traders throughout the ages - from the Phoenicians to the Romans.

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Underwater archaeologists make way for Israel's deep-sea gas pipeline
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Underwater archaeologists make way for Israel's deep-sea gas pipeline

Relics are seen on the seabed of the Mediterranean Sea close to the site of a 5000-year-old port near Dor Beach in northern Israel, in this still image taken from handout video provided to Reuters on August 30, 2018.

(Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority/Handout via REUTERS)

A marine archaeologist looks for relics in the Mediterranean Sea close to the site of a 5000-year-old port near Dor Beach in northern Israel, in this still image taken from handout video provided to Reuters on August 30, 2018.

(Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority/Handout via REUTERS)

A marine archaeologist looks for relics in the Mediterranean Sea close to the site of a 5000-year-old port near Dor Beach in northern Israel, in this still image taken from handout video provided to Reuters on August 30, 2018.

(Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority/Handout via REUTERS)

A fisherman stands on rocks along the Mediterranean Sea near Dor Beach, northern Israel August 28, 2018. Picture taken August 28, 2018.

(REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

FILE PHOTO: Hundreds of Israeli surfers take part in what they said was a record-breaking protest against potential environmental damage from an off-shore gas development project in the Mediterranean Sea at Herzliya, Israel June 22, 2018.

(REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo)

An ancient mosaic is displayed at a museum in Kibbutz Nahsholim, near Dor Beach, Israel August 28, 2018. Picture taken August 28, 2018.

(REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

FILE PHOTO: People protest against plans to build a gas production platform close to Israel's coastline, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 23, 2018.

(REUTERS/Corinna Kern/File Photo)

Kurt Raveh, a marine archaeologist and local resident, looks on during an interview with Reuters at Dor Beach, northern Israel August 28, 2018. Picture taken August 28, 2018.

(REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

People swim in the Mediterranean Sea as a crane, positioned at the site where construction of a natural gas pipeline is taking place, is seen in the background, at Dor Beach, northern Israel August 28, 2018. Picture taken August 28, 2018.

(REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

A crane is positioned at the site where construction of a natural gas pipeline is taking place, near the Mediterranean Sea at Dor Beach, northern Israel August 28, 2018. Picture taken August 28, 2018.

(REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

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To minimize damage to such relics, the Israel Antiquities Authority has been working over the past year with the Leviathan field's operator, Texas-based Noble Energy.

A team spent weeks scuba diving in the warm crystal clear water off the beach, dispersing silt to uncover ancient artifacts. A remote-operated robot was used for searches in deeper water.

They found earthenware jugs, anchors and the remains of wrecked ships, setting new guidelines for similar future projects.

"There has been unprecedented cooperation to protect the antiquities and the cultural assets," Yaakov Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, told Reuters TV.

Sharvit said Noble financed most of the archaeological surveys and a large research ship to help extract ancient objects along the pipeline's route.

The pipeline is being buried 15-20 meters below the seabed to minimize any impact on the surroundings.

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Discoveries made by the Israel Antiquities Authority
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Discoveries made by the Israel Antiquities Authority
Archaeologists from the Israeli Antiquities Authority, inspect a cave near a recently discoveread Edomean era structre, at ancient ruins of Amuda, near the town of Beit Guvrin on November 30, 2017. A 2200-year-old (Hellenistic period) structure, possibly an Edomean palace or temple, was uncovered during in archaeological excavations at the site of Horvat Amuda, situated at the heart of a military training area in the Lachish region. / AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah, excavator of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), holds a stamped piece of clay from the First Jewish Temple period which belonged to the 'governor of the city' of Jerusalem, the most prominent local position to be held in Jerusalem of 2700 years ago, and which were excavated at the northwestern part of the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem's Old City, on January 1, 2018, at he IAA laboratories in Jerusalem. The extraordinary find is a lump of clay, stamped and pre-fired, measures 13 x 15 mm and is 23 mm thick. The upper part of the sealing depicts two figures facing each other, and the lower part holds an inscription in ancient Hebrew script. / AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON (Photo credit should read GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images)
Benyamin Storchan, excavations director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, shows a decorated mosaic floor part of the remains of a 1,500-year-old (Byzantine Period) monastery and church, recently discovered in the southern hills of Israeli city of Beit Shemesh, on December 20, 2017. The operations are part of large-scale excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority with the help of over 1,000 teenagers, prior to the expansion of the Ramat Beit Shemesh neighborhood. / AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
An Israel Antiquities Authority volunteer uncovers a mosaic floor, part of the remains of a 1,500-year-old (Byzantine Period) monastery and church, recently discovered in the southern hills of Israeli city of Beit Shemesh, on December 20, 2017. The operations are part of large-scale excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority with the help of over 1,000 teenagers, prior to the expansion of the Ramat Beit Shemesh neighborhood. / AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Archaeologists from the Israeli Antiquities Authority, inspect a cave near a recently discoveread Edomean era structre, at ancient ruins of Amuda, near the town of Beit Guvrin on November 30, 2017. A 2200-year-old (Hellenistic period) structure, possibly an Edomean palace or temple, was uncovered during in archaeological excavations at the site of Horvat Amuda, situated at the heart of a military training area in the Lachish region. / AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Michal Haber, a member of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, displays an Edomean era incense burner adorned with an image of a bull, that was recently discovered at the ancient ruins of Amuda, near the village of Amazya on November 30, 2017. A 2200-year-old (Hellenistic period) structure, possibly an Edomean palace or temple, was uncovered during in archaeological excavations at the site of Horvat Amuda, situated at the heart of a military training area in the Lachish region. / AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Workers restore a ceiling of the Western Wall tunnels near the site where Israeli Antiquity Authority recently discovered an ancient roman theatre from the second sanctuary in Jerusalem's Old City on October 16, 2017. Excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority have uncovered large portions of the Western Wall that have been hidden for 1,700 years. / AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Joe Uziel, an archeologist from the Israeli Antiquity Authority, works on a recently discovered ancient roman theatre from the second sanctuary that was found at the foot of the Western Wall tunnels in Jerusalem's Old City on October 16, 2017. Excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority have uncovered large portions of the Western Wall that have been hidden for 1,700 years. / AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Tehillah Lieberman, an archeologist of the Israeli Antiquity Authority, shows journalists a recently discovered ancient roman theatre from the second sanctuary that was found at the foot of the Western Wall tunnels in Jerusalem's Old City on October 16, 2017. Excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority have uncovered large portions of the Western Wall that have been hidden for 1,700 years. / AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Archaeologist Annette Landes-Nagar, of Israel's Antiquities Authority, displays ancient coins from the era of the Byzantine Empire (Seventh century), which were found last summer during excavations near the Arab Israeli village of Abu Ghosh near Jerusalem, during a press tour of the national treasures storerooms of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Beit Shemesh on March 19 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Joe Uziel, of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), who is the director of an excavation project where evidence of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians has recently been unearthed, speaks at the site in the City of David archeological park near Jerusalem's Old City on July 26, 2017. The structures dating to more than 2,600 years ago have been unearthed after having been covered over by collapsed layers of stone revealing many findings such as charred wood, grape seeds, pottery, fish scales and bones, and unique, rare artifacts including dozens of storage jars which served to store both grain and liquids. / AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON (Photo credit should read GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images)
A worker of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Nature and Parks Authority works at the ''stepped street'' in a underground tunnel at the 2,000 year old 'Second Temple Period Street' discovered in the David City located in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, outside the southern part of Jerusalem's Old City, on May 25, 2017. Israel Antiquities Authority and the Nature and Parks Authority are unveiling evidence from 2,000 year ago of the battle of Jerusalem following the destruction of the Second Temple, at the City of David in the Jerusalem Walls National Park. / AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
A first century Ossuary, bearing an old Hebrew text, is displayed during a press tour at the national treasures storerooms of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Beit Shemesh on March 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
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Leviathan was discovered in 2010 about 75 miles off Israel's coast. Its development will be the largest energy project in Israel's history.

"What is unique here in Israel is the ancient place that we’re operating," said Binyamin Zomer, vice president for regional affairs for Noble Energy.

"We work very closely with the Antiquities Authority here in Israel to make sure that should we discover such finds, we first of all avoid causing harm to those areas and secondly, to make sure that they are aware of the resources and potential finds that they have."

His company says the project will not harm the environment and will replace less healthy fossil fuels. But some local environmentalists and residents oppose the plan, which along with the pipeline includes a towering production platform to be built just 10 km from shore.

Local resident and marine archaeologist Kurt Raveh, who has been excavating at Dor for decades and founded its diving club, thinks the survey being done is insufficient. He worries the area is at risk from potential pipeline leaks.

"We have so many treasures and old shipwrecks and things like that, we should get them out of the water before we can't enter the water anymore," he said.

(Editing by Ari Rabinovitch and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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