The Israel Antiquities Authority has put on display the contents of an ancient Roman cargo ship that sank off the coast of the Israeli coastal town of Caesarea some 1,600 years ago.

The treasure was discovered by two Israeli divers, and includes bronze sculptures, thousands of coins and other well-preserved pieces.

The two men spied a castaway sculpture sitting amid the rocks and silt on the seabed. “It took us a couple of seconds to understand what was going on,” Ra’anan told the Associated Press. It started to dawn on the divers, must have been ancient. Indeed, according to the archaeologists, it’s the largest cache of Roman objects to be found in Israel in 30 years.

Recognising the artefacts belonged in a museum, or were at the very least covered by Israel’s Law of Antiquities, the divers contacted the state-run Antiquities Authority. When the government archaeologists arrived at the site, what they beheld almost defied belief.

The find is remarkable for two reasons, the archaeologists say. First, the objects are well-preserved and were only recently exposed on the ocean floor. Covered in a layer of sand, the figures and coins show little evidence of the nearly 2,000 years that have passed. And second, because the Romans frequently melted down metal statues to recast them anew, few such figures exist today.

The accident was, ultimately, the artefacts’ salvation.

“Because these statues were wrecked together with the ship,” Sharvit and Dror said, “they sank in the water and were thus ‘saved’ from the recycling process.”