New light on King Herod’s Harbor at Caesarea Maritima
Beginning in 2014, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) initiated an ambitious digital archaeology project to create a high-resolution 3D map of the submerged ancient port of Caesarea Maritima, Israel. Built by King Herod the Great at the end of the first century BCE, Caesarea is recognized today as a marvel of Roman engineering and one of the most important underwater archaeological sites in the world.
Along with collaborating researchers from the Universities of Rhode Island, Louisville (Kentucky), Zagreb, Florence, and Girona, OceanGate Foundation has supported this initiative from the beginning, recognizing Caesarea not only as an important testing ground for marine science technology, but a site of ongoing and highly significant new discoveries in the history of Judaism and Christianity. A new museum opening at the site in May 2019 showcases OceanGate’s enormous contribution to Caesarea’s maritime archaeology.
While the popular tourist site has been extensively excavated since the 1960s, maps and reconstructions produced from this work were based on incomplete information and constrained by the limits of available technology. In 2010, a severe winter storm dramatically changed the underwater landscape at Caesarea, revealing many new features. This prompted the IAA to undertake a new conservation assessment of the ruins, which came to encompass the rescue excavations of a Fatimid-era gold hoard (2015) and a large fourth century CE Roman shipwreck (2016-2017), as well as numerous other discoveries. Critical to this effort were underwater 3D camera systems developed by the University of Girona, the University of Zagreb Pladypos ASV robot, AUVs from the University of Florence, and most recently, the University of Rhode Island “Digski,” a Yamaha Waverunner modified into an excavation dredge. Archaeologists Koby Sharvit and Dror Planer (IAA), Bridget Buxton (URI), and John Hale (Louisville) led the fieldwork alongside OceanGate citizen scientists and numerous students and marine robotics engineers from around the world.
By 2017, discoveries in the field plus some historical detective work led the OceanGate team to come up with several new hypotheses about the construction of the harbor and its true size, with major implications for the career of Pontius Pilate and our understanding of ancient navigation. Testing these theories, however, has required deploying and even inventing an entirely new suite of underwater tools, from the super high tech (the European robots) to the just super fun (the “Digski”). OceanGate’s yearly Caesarea expeditions are having a transformative impact on biblical history, maritime technology, and the careers of the many students who have joined the project as archaeologists and ocean engineers in training.
It’s hard to believe, but the IAA-OceanGate project operates on lower budgets than the Caesarea excavation projects of the 1980s and 90s. It is a small expedition that has yielded big revelations—but the best are still to come, buried deep under the preserving sand that still covers vast areas of Herod’s ancient harbor.
Would you like to be part of our ongoing discovery? Contact us for information on how you can support our next expedition to this ancient port.