Israeli archaeologists working on a major Roman-era port city have unveiled new discoveries including an altar dedicated to Augustus Caesar and a centuries-old mother-of-pearl tablet inscribed with a menorah. The finds at Caesarea, a complex on the Mediterranean coast 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Tel Aviv, were the result of ‘one of the largest and most important conservation projects ever undertaken in Israel,’ the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

Caesarea was established some 2,030 years ago by Roman-appointed King Herod the Great, who ruled what was then Judea. In the year 6 CE, it became the seat of the Roman provincial government of Judea. The city had an artificial harbor made of concrete blocks and public buildings, along with an aqueduct that brought water from springs almost 10 miles away. Today, the archaeological site also contains ruins from later periods including the Byzantine, Muslim, and Crusader eras. The ruins right on the shore of the Mediterranean are a popular tourist destination where concerts are still held in the remains of an ancient Roman theater.

Archaeologists report that a small tablet engraved with a seven-branched menorah, discovered at the ancient harbor of Caesarea, indicates Jewish presence at the site dating back to the fourth or fifth centuries. They also found the head of a figurine depicting the Asclepius. Archaeologists said it likely dates to the fourth or fifth century AD.

The Edmond de Rothschild Foundation and local authorities have allocated more than 100 million shekels ($27 million, 25 million euros) for the Caesarea project. The site has been the focus of major excavation work over the decades but recent work has revealed new secrets.

Not long ago Israel’s Antiquities Authority revealed a newly-discovered cargo from a merchant ship that sank off the ancient Mediterranean port of Caesarea 1,600 years ago, including rare bronze statues and thousands of coins. The find happened upon by two divers, consisted primarily of ‘metal slated for recycling’ borne on the ship from Caesarea in the late Roman period, IAA experts said.

It appears that a storm at the entrance to Caesarea harbor crashed the large ship into the seawall and rocks, spilling the cargo into the sea and preserving the ‘exciting finds’ for our generation. Metal statues are always rare archaeological finds because historically they were always melted down and recycled in antiquity.

The director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the IAA noted that such a trove of underwater goods hasn’t been found in Israel for 30 years. The artifacts include ‘a bronze lamp depicting the image of the sun god Sol, a figurine of the moon goddess Luna, a lamp in the image of the head of an African slave (and) fragments of three life-size bronze cast statues.

The Caesarea project also aims to preserve the remains of an ancient synagogue and a nearby aqueduct. Officials said a small mother-of-pearl tablet engraved with a menorah was a testimony to an ancient Jewish presence at the site.

Original Source: Daily Mail (UK)