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Sunken city gives up its treasure: Ancient Egyptian metropolis lost for 1,200 years below Mediterranean sea set to go on display

06 Jun

  • Heracleion was submerged by the sea and sands 1,200 years ago
  • Was discovered during a survey at the beginning of the last decade
  • Archaeologists are now preparing to show some of the objects found

By JAMES RUSH

 

An ancient Egyptian city swallowed by the sea more than 1,200 years ago has started to reveal its secrets.

Items including 16ft sculptures, gold coins and giant tablets are among some of the objects recovered from the ancient port city which lies 20 miles northeast of Alexandria in the Mediterranean.

For hundreds of years it was believed to be a legend, but the city of Heracleion, also called Thonis, was found during a survey of the Egyptian shore at the beginning of the last decade.

 

A colossal statue of an ancient unknown Pharaoh lies on a barge in an Alexandrian naval base after it was uncovered in the ancient submerged city of Heracleion
French marine archaeologist Frank Goddio explains text on the stele of Heracleion on a barge in an Alexandrian naval base

A colossal statue of an ancient unknown Pharaoh (left) lies on a barge in an Alexandrian naval base after it was uncovered in the ancient submerged city of Heracleion. French marine archaeologist Frank Goddio (right) explains text on the stele of Heracleion

Franck Goddio and divers from his team inspect the statue of a pharaohFranck Goddio and divers from his team inspect the statue of a pharaoh

 

Among the most important monuments that were discovered at the temple area of Thonis-Heracleion is this monolithic chapel dating to the Ptolemaic periodAmong the most important monuments that were discovered at the temple area of Thonis-Heracleion is this monolithic chapel dating to the Ptolemaic period

Now, an international team of marine archaeologists is preparing to show some of the objects found in the underwater city.

The city was mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus, who told of Helen of Troy visiting Heracleion with her lover Paris before the Trojan war.

No evidence of the city was found until 2000 when French researcher Franck Goddio discovered it with a team from the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology.

Explore the ancient underwater city of Heracleion

 

The paper has said weights from Athens have also been discovered at the site, confirming beliefs the city was once an important trading port.

Elsbeth van der Wilt, a University of Oxford archaeologist working at the site, told the paper the port was an important hub in the network for long-distance trade in the Eastern Mediterranean.

She said: ‘Excavations in the harbour basins yielded an interesting group of lead weights, likely to have been used by both temple officials and merchants in the payment of taxes and the purchasing of goods.

An archaeologist measures the feet of a colossal red granite statue at the site of Heracleion discovered in Aboukir BayAn archaeologist measures the feet of a colossal red granite statue at the site of Heracleion discovered in Aboukir Bay

The statue of the Goddess Isis sits on display on a barge in an Alexandrian naval base
A colossal statue of red granite representing the god Hapi, which decorated the temple of Heracleion

The statue of the Goddess Isis sits on display on a barge in an Alexandrian naval base (left). Pictured right is a colossal statue of red granite representing the god Hapi, which decorated the temple of Heracleion

 

An international team of marine archaeologists is preparing to show some of the objects found in the underwater cityAn international team of marine archaeologists is preparing to show some of the objects found in the underwater city

 

Heracleion was mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus, who told of Helen of Troy visiting the city with her lover Paris before the Trojan warHeracleion was mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus, who told of Helen of Troy visiting the city with her lover Paris before the Trojan war

‘Amongst these are an important group of Athenian weights. They are a significant archaeological find because it is the first time that weights like these have been identified during excavations in Egypt.’

While scientists are still unsure why the city suddenly disappeared, one theory suggests a rise in sea level and unstable collapsing sediment combined to submerge the city.

Dr Damian Robinson, director of the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Oxford, who worked on the excavation, told The Telegraph: ‘It is a major city we are excavating.

‘The site has amazing preservation. We are now starting to look at some of the more interesting areas within it to try to understand life there.’

The ancient port city lies 20 miles northeast of Alexandria in the MediterraneanThe ancient port city lies 20 miles northeast of Alexandria in the Mediterranean

Items including 16ft sculptures, gold coins and giant tablets are among some of the objects recovered from the ancient port cityItems including 16ft sculptures, gold coins and giant tablets are among some of the objects recovered from the ancient port city

 

One theory suggests a rise in sea level and unstable collapsing sediment combined to submerge the cityOne theory suggests a rise in sea level and unstable collapsing sediment combined to submerge the city

 

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