Violent storm reveals ancient art on the coast of Israel

Amir Cohen / Reuters

A Roman statue stands on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in the southern city of Ashkelon on Dec. 14. The statue, which had been buried for centuries, was unearthed by the winter gales that have raked Israel’s coast. The marble figure was found in the remains of a cliff that crumbled under the force of winds, waves and rain, the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

This week’s storm in the Middle East wreaked havoc with scores of archaeological sites along Israel’s coast — but it also uncovered a treasure: a headless, armless statue of a woman in a toga and sandals, made of white marble.

The figure was found half-buried in the sand by a resident walking near the shore in the southern city of Ashkelon. In addition to the statue, experts identified pieces of a mosaic floor from what’s thought to have been a Roman bathhouse. The artifacts are part of a cliffside archaeological site that collapsed when high winds and waves hit the shore.

“The sea gave us this amazing statue,” Yigal Israel, an archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority, told Reuters. The statue stands about 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall and weighs about 440 pounds (200 kilograms). It’s thought to date back to the Roman occupation of what was western Judea, between 1,700 and 2,000 years ago. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted Israel as saying the statue “was apparently imported from Italy, Greece or Asia Minor, and may have represented the goddess Aphrodite.”

The statue, which is to be placed on museum display, brought little joy to Israeli archaeologists. They say the storm washed away other artifacts from the site, and did serious damage to the ruins of coastal Caesarea. “We don’t see this discovery as such good news,” one of Israel’s colleagues at the antiquities authority told Reuters. “Better than relics remain hidden and protected than that they be exposed and damaged.”

For another perspective on the discovery, check out The Associated Press’ report in our Science section.

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