Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds
19 May – 27 November 2016
Over 200 finds from underwater excavations of two recently rediscovered Ancient Egyptian cities, which had been submerged beneath the Mediterranean Sea for over 1,000 years.
For the best part of 1000 years two ancient Egyptian cities – Thonis-Hercaleion and Canopus – were lost to the sea. Thriving metropolises in 7th century AD, their existence was documented in decrees and mythology but attempts to find them had been largely fruitless.
In 1996, following four years of research, Franck Goddio and his team at the Institut Européen d’Archéologie Sous-Marine made an incredible breakthrough. Underwater excavations near the coast of Alexandria uncovered a trove of astonishing objects, pristinely-preserved thanks to their submersion in the sea.
This spring Goddio co-curates an exhibition featuring more than 200 discoveries made at the site of the sunken cities – some excavated as recently as 2012 – as well as further artefacts from Egyptian institutions and the British Museum’s collection.
Spanning from sculpture and jewellery to everyday domestic items, the objects betray both Egyptian and Greek influences; uniquely, these islands were located at the mouth of the River Nile but under Grecian rule.
While comprehensive, the exhibition contains only a tiny proportion of the treasures it is believed these submerged cities hold. To this day, the mission to bring Thonis-Hercaleion and Canopus above water continues.
Among the highlights is a lead model recreating a flotilla of papyrus barges that featured in the cities’ celebrations for the annual Mysteries of Osiris festival. According to religious texts each barge measured 67.5m, featured the figure of an Egyptian god and was illuminated by 365 lamps.
The curators of the exhibition give us their must-see objects from the exhibition.