Remains from ancient cultures are abundant along the coastline of Eretz Israel. These remains are material evidence of the activity of the diverse civilizations which inhabited these shores over thousands of years. They are part of Israel's cultural maritime legacy as well as an important source of knowledge of its history. Submerged archeological maritime remains that were hidden from human view for thousands of years have been exposed in recent years as the result of human intervention at the shoreline (construction of ports and marinas and sand quarrying) and the development of scuba diving. Unsupervised exposure of the remains and the subsequent unavoidable damage has led to the danger that these treasures may be lost.
Fifty years of underwater archeological research has uncovered many important sites, each with its own character and finds. The uniqueness of the finds lies in their generally good state of preservation and their rarity relative to archeological excavations on land. Every sunken ship preserves the moment of disaster as a sort of "time capsule" and contains much evidence regarding the technology of the vessel, the crew's lifestyle and the ship's cargo and sailing route.
This series of stamps illustrates some of the finds from sunken ships found along Israel's shoreline and reflect the seafarers' commercial ties and beliefs:
The power of the sea aroused the seafarers' need to seek heavenly protection and shelter. Greek and Roman sailors customarily carried talismans and figurines and held religious rituals while at sea. Three figurines of the patrons of sailing and trade were found in a Roman ship discovered near Haifa: the god Serapis, the goddess Minerva
and the god Mercury.
The role of the anchor is to hold a ship safely in place, thus it is one of the most important and common tools used by sailing vessels. Ancient ships carried several anchors, as they were easily lost. Others sank with ships which were wrecked in storms. The variety of types discovered along our shores demonstrates the complete development of these anchors: stone anchors from the Bronze Age, anchors of wood and stone, or wood and lead, from the Persian, Hellenistic and Ancient Roman Periods, iron anchors from the Roman and Byzantine Periods and four-pronged grapnel anchors from the Middle Ages.
The location of Eretz Israel at an important strategic crossroad and its significance for monotheistic religions resulted in its being a battleground between great naval powers throughout history. Fleets landing on its shores left various weapons, including bronze axes, swords and daggers, bronze helmets, clay grenades used for "Greek Fire" and cannons.
The bustling ports were the scene of import and export of raw materials, tools, foodstuffs and luxuries. Olive oil and wine were in great demand around the Mediterranean, and Eretz Israel was rich in both. These wares were transported in earthenware jugs called amphoras, various types of which were suited to specific types of goods.
Head of the Marine Archeology Unit
Israel Antiquities Authority
Dr. Yaakov Kahanov
Head of the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies
University of Haifa