"Ancient Sunken Cities in Egypt"
by David Franchi for remotegoat on 23/11/16

“Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds” is the first major exhibition of The British Museum focusing on underwater archaeological discoveries. It explores the life and legend of Thonis- Heracleion and Canopus, two lost Egyptian cities, located at the mouth of the River Nile near Alexandria, but were submerged for over a millennium.

Recently brought to light from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, Thonis- Heracleion and Canopus are changing our understanding of the relationship between ancient Egypt and the Greek world. “Sunken Cities” exhibition discloses how cross-cultural exchange and religion flourished, particularly the worship of Osiris - the Egyptian god of the afterlife.

Objects on display were a total of 300, of which more than 200 spectacular finds excavated off between 1996 and 2012. Significant loans from Egyptian museums rarely seen before outside Egypt (and the first such loans since the Egyptian revolution) are complemented by 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.

Probably Thonis- Heracleion and Canopus were founded during the 7th century BC. They were located on adjacent islands of the Egyptian Delta, and intersected by canals. After Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332BC, centuries of Greek (Ptolemaic) rule followed.

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. The exhibition shows how a pioneering European team led by Franck Goddio in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities made use of the most up-to-date technologies to find them. Thanks to the underwater setting, a vast number of objects of great archaeological significance have been astonishingly well preserved.

Pristine monumental statues are on display – some of the largest objects ever to come to the Museum on loan. Fine metal objects and gold jewellery 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 tailored Egyptian beliefs and rituals to legitimise their reign.

The exhibition is in five sections, opening with the story of the cities’ rediscovery, and then spanning from the Greeks arrival around 650 BC to the Roman Empire invasion in 30BC.

The on-going underwater archaeological mission continues to bring to light new masterpieces and further research every year as the most recent finds from 2012 show.

Magnificent underwater films and photography is used throughout the exhibition.

An unmissable event, “Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds” is a great exhibition at The British Museum, London.

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