Disc of Yavne Yam: Unveiling Enigmatic Maritime Mysteries

While taking his regular morning swim in the captivating expanse of the Mediterranean, an Israeli lifeguard named David Shalom stumbled upon something truly remarkable. It was an ordinary day for David until he spotted an extraordinary sight on the sea bottom in the shallow waters. Intrigued, he dived down for a closer look and emerged with a smooth marble disc that bore an uncanny resemblance to a small cymbal. This serendipitous encounter would soon reveal a fascinating tale from the depths of history, Disc of Yavne Yam connecting us to a world long gone.

An Unexpected Discovery Beneath the Waves

Disc of Yavne Yam
A powerful amulet, similar to the enchanted disc found near the shoreline of Israel, as depicted in ancient Greek pottery. ( Israel Antiquities Authority )

Recognizing the marble Disc of Yavne Yam potential significance, David Shalom, aware of the region’s history filled with ancient shipwrecks, handed over his find to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The experts at IAA, elated by this unusual artifact, promptly identified it as a magic talisman. Crafted to be hung on seagoing vessels, this talisman was believed to shield ships from malevolent spirits, witchcraft, and ill fortune.

Unveiling the Secrets of the Ages

Disc of Yavne Yam
The enchanted disc was unearthed just off the coast adjacent to the archaeological location of Yavne-Yan near Tel Aviv, as shown in this depiction. ( Yitzhak Marmelstein )

An announcement on the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Facebook page on July 18 disclosed the astonishing age of the marble Disc of Yavne Yam – approximately 2,500 years old, precisely dating back to the fourth or fifth century BC. Drawings on pottery, mosaics, coins, and historical sources from the 5th century BC offered insights into the disc’s purpose. It adorned ships’ bows, serving not only as protection against evil forces but also as a navigator’s aid, offering a vigilant gaze forward and a warning against perilous waters.

Yaakov Sharvit, Director of the IAA’s Marine Archaeology Unit, elaborated, “This decoration remains relevant even in modern times, adorning ships in Portugal, Malta, Greece, and the Far East.”

A Glimpse into Ancient Maritime Life

David Shalom’s discovery emerged from the Yavne-Yam archaeological site, adjacent to Palmachim Beach, a mere 15 miles south of Tel Aviv. Yavne-Yam, a bustling ancient port 2,500 years ago, continues to yield a treasure trove of artifacts through land and underwater explorations. This marble disc, though not directly linked to a specific shipwreck, offers a poignant reminder of the tragic fates that even talismans couldn’t always avert.

The Enigmatic Talisman Unveiled

Disc of Yavne Yam
Two mystical stone discs were found at the Tektas Burnu site along the Turkish coastline. Named Ophthalmoi, they would have been attached to the front of a Greek vessel to aid its vision underwater and prevent shipwrecks. These discs exhibit a remarkable resemblance to contemporary evil eye beads. ( Anita Gould )

Measuring approximately eight inches in diameter, the sand-colored marble disc boasts a symmetrical roundness on its underside and a curvaceous top, resembling a cymbal. An intriguing central hole, flanked by painted circles, gives rise to an eye motif – a design that was integral to ancient maritime traditions.

Maritime Safeguards from the Past

These unique discs, affixed to the bows of both merchant vessels and warships, held immense significance. By driving lead or bronze nails through the central aperture, mariners secured the disc directly to the hull. This practice fostered the belief that these talismans could fend off all forms of evil, lending vessels protection as they ventured into treacherous waters.

A Rarity from the Depths

Despite their prominence in the past, only four such talismans have emerged from the Mediterranean waters so far. This includes relics recovered adjacent to a sunken merchant vessel off the Turkish coast, and another found near Israel’s Carmel Beach. There is speculation that amateur treasure hunters may have uncovered more, opting to retain or sell them illicitly, rather than contributing to heritage preservation.

Integrity Rewarded

David Shalom’s honesty in delivering his discovery to heritage organizations earned him praise. The Israel Antiquities Authority’s possession of this rare artifact, a testament to millennia-old maritime practices, serves as a symbol of dedication to preserving our shared history.

Yavne-Yam: A Hub of Maritime History

Decades of archaeological exploration have illuminated Yavne-Yam’s significance spanning roughly 5,000 years. From the Middle Bronze Age to the Middle Ages, this site witnessed maritime activity and served as a natural anchorage. However, its sheltered haven also bore witness to numerous shipwrecks, hinting at the perils ancient mariners faced.

Uncovering the Past through Underwater Endeavors

The IAA’s Marine Archaeology Unit’s 1980s underwater dives in the Yavne-Yam region unveiled a trove of shipwrecked relics. These vessels, designated for merchant duties or fishing, yielded a diverse array of artifacts. From stone and metal anchors to fishing equipment, cooking ovens, and ornate jewelry, each find paints a vivid picture of ancient maritime life.

A Trade Route Through Time

These discoveries underscore the bustling sea trade that once characterized Yavne-Yam. Ships that traversed these waters were likely adorned with the protective marble discs. A tradition that spanned generations, these talismans reflected the mariners’ faith in their power, despite their eventual unproven effectiveness.

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