The British press are reporting that underwater excavations of the ancient Egyptian cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus have yielded incredible artefacts which will be on display at the British Museum this year. Sunken Cities, which runs in London from 19 May to 27 November 2016, had related previous shows in Egypt and Paris. The cities were likely swallowed by the Mediterranean after a catastrophic earthquake in the 8th century CE. The British Museum released the following statement on the forthcoming exhibition:
300 outstanding objects will be brought together for the exhibition including more than 200 spectacular finds excavated off the coast of Egypt near Alexandria between 1996 and 2012. Important loans from Egyptian museums rarely seen before outside Egypt (and the first such loans since the Egyptian revolution) will be supplemented with objects from various sites across the Delta drawn from the British Museum’s collection; most notably from Naukratis – a sister harbour town to Thonis- Heracleion and the first Greek settlement in Egypt.Likely founded during the 7th century BC, Thonis- Heracleion and Canopus were busy, cosmopolitan cities that once sat on adjacent islands at the edge of the fertile lands of the Egyptian Delta, intersected by canals. After Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt in 332 BC, centuries of Greek (Ptolemaic) rule followed. The exhibition will reveal how cross-cultural exchange and religion flourished, particularly the worship of the Egyptian god of the afterlife, Osiris.By the 8th century AD, the sea had reclaimed the cities and they lay hidden several metres beneath the seabed, their location and condition unclear. Although well-known from Egyptian decrees and Greek mythology and historians, past attempts to locate them were either fruitless or very partial. ...Thanks to the underwater setting, a vast number of objects of great archaeological significance have been astonishingly well preserved. Pristine monumental statues, fine metalware and gold jewellery will reveal how Greece and Egypt interacted in the late first millennium BC. These artefacts offer a new insight into the quality and unique character of the art of this period and show how the Greek kings and queens who ruled Egypt for 300 years adopted and adapted Egyptian beliefs and rituals to legitimise their reign.
The exhibition will feature a number of extraordinary, monumental sculptures. A 5.4 m granite statue of Hapy, a divine personification of the Nile’s flood, will greet visitors as they enter the space. Masterpieces from Egyptian museums such as the Apis bull from the Serapeum in Alexandria will be shown alongside magnificent recent finds from the sea. One such piece is the stunning sculpture from Canopus representing Arsinoe II (the eldest daughter of Ptolemy I, founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty). The Greco-Macedonian queen became a goddess beloved to both Egyptians and Greeks after her death and is depicted here as the perfect embodiment of Aphrodite, a goddess of beauty ‘who grants fortunate sailing’.
The exhibition will also cover the arrival of Greeks in Egypt, when they were hosts and not rulers; privileged but controlled by the pharaohs. A complete stela from Thonis-Heracleion advertises a 380 BC royal decree of the Egyptian pharaoh Nectanebo I. It states that 10% of the taxes collected on all goods imported from the ‘Sea of the Greeks’ into Thonis-Heracleion and on all trade operations at Naukratis were to be donated to an Egyptian temple.A wide range of objects, from modest to grand and costly, bears witness to the piety of both inhabitants and visitors at these major religious centres. Lead models of barges uncovered in the sacred waterway linking Thonis-Heracleion to Canopus are unique and moving finds. They are associated with the Mysteries of Osiris, the most popular festival celebrated annually across Egypt during the month of Khoiak (mid-October to mid- November). Ranging in size from 6 to 67 cm, these reproduce in metal a flotilla of 34 papyrus barges that would have been displayed on a waterway to celebrate the first sacred navigation of the festival. According to religious texts, each barge was to measure 67.5 cm and to bear the figure of an Egyptian god, and would have been illuminated by 365 lamps. The lead barges are lasting testimonies possibly left by people who, long ago, celebrated this festival in the Canopic region.
A "5.4m red granite statue of the god Hapy, which decorated the temple of Thonis-Heracleion." Image Source: Evening Standard.
CNN reported on the related Paris exhibition to describe the importance of the god Osiris in these lost cities:
The exhibition in Paris [8 September 2015 - 31 January 2016], entitled Osiris, Sunken Mysteries of Egypt, explores the importance of the Egyptian god to people of these cities, which are thought to have been places of pilgrimage.The story of Osiris tells of how he was murdered and cut up by his brother Seth before being resurrected by his wife (and possibly sister) Isis, with whom he had a son, Horus.[French archaeologist Franck] Goddio says: "It's about good defeating evil but not conquering it completely. Every year they had to renew Osiris, who brought the cycle of abundance, the stability of the cosmos and the continuity of the dynasty. In every temple a priest would represent the pharaoh and relive the murder, dismemberment and rebirth of Osiris. We knew that there was something special in Heracleion thanks to the stele rediscovered in 1881 which bore the decree of Canopus."It said that in the celebration of the Mysteries of Osiris, the great god leaves from the temple of Amon-Gereb in the town of Heracleion to perform a processional navigation to his sanctuary of Canopus. We found the canal along which the god sailed. We found artifacts in bearing witness of this celebration."
The statue of Osiris, in situ, from a distance. Image Source: CNN.
Image Source: Independent.
An artist's rendering of what the port city of Thonis-Heracleion might have looked at the height of its prosperity. Image Source: CNN.
The submerged ruins of Thonis-Heracleion. Images Source: Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation/University of Oxford via National Geographic.
Image Source: WN.
"Oil lamp found amid submerged ruins of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus." Image Source: Christoph Gerigk via Guardian.
"A diver inspects portions of a cella, a rectangular room found inside Greek temples." Image Source: CNN.
Paris Update: "Bronze statuettes from Thonis-Heracleion. 6th-2nd century BCE." Image Source: Christoph Gerigk/Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation via Ascension Earth.
Temple ruins from Canopus, 2 kilometres east of the western fringe of the Nile Delta. Images Source: Christoph Gerigk via Archaeology News Network.
"Granite head of a priest, Ptolemaic period," East Harbour, Alexandria, Egypt. Image Source: Christoph Gerigk and Guardian
Guardian: "A diver with a large tablet carrying a royal decree from the pharaoh Nectanebo I, which will feature in the British Museum exhibition." Image Source: Christoph Gerigk/Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation via Evening Standard.
Retrieval of the tablet. Image Source: National Geographic.
"An imposing stone tablet, a 380 BC Royal Decree from Nectanebo I, will reveal the tax settlements of the day, with 10 per cent of all tax collected on imports from the 'Sea of Greeks' donated to a local Egyptian temple." Image Source: Telegraph.
"The head of a colossal red granite statue of a pharaoh is raised to the surface. The entire statue measures over 5 metres and was found close to the great temple of sunken Heracleion." Image Source: Franck Goddio.
Franck Goddio: "Franck Goddio and his team watch the rise to the surface of a colossal statue of red granite (5.4 m) representing the god Hapy, symbol of abundance and fertility and god of the Nile flood which stood in front of the temple of Heracleion. Never before has the statue of a god of this size been discovered in Egypt, which indicates Hapy’s importance for the Canopic branch, the largest and most important of the Nile branches at that time." Image Source: Unique Scoop.
"A pink granite 'garden vat' discovered at the site of Thonis Heracleion." Image Source: Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation / Christoph Gerigk via Telegraph.
Artefact and coins from Canopus: "Golden coins dating from Byzantine (7th century AD) and Islamic (8th Century AD) periods, found at Canopus." Images Source: Shughal.
The last image is a "limestone head of a statue found at Canopus. It probably originates from Cyprus (contacts between Cyprus and Egypt are well attested during the middle of the 1st millennium BC)." Images Source: Unique Scoop.
"One of the finest finds in Abukir Bay is the remarkable dark stone statue of a 3rd century Ptolemaic queen, very probably Cleopatra II or Cleopatra III, wearing the tunic of the goddess Isis." Images Source: Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation/Christoph Gerigk via Franck Goddio.
"Colossal red granite statue of a Ptolemaic queen, 4.9 m high and weighing 4 tons, found close to the great temple of sunken Heracleion. " Image Source: Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation/Christoph Gerigk via Franck Goddio.
"Bronze statuette of a pharaoh." Image Source: Christoph Gerigk via Guardian.
Statue of the Ptolemaic Greek Princess Arsinoë II, eldest daughter of Pharaoh Ptolemy I and sister and wife of Ptolemy II. Image Source: Telegraph.