March 29, 2013

Magnificent Lost Egyptian City Found Underwater

We really do live in a time of great discovery!

What has been called “The Gateway to Egypt”, the lost city of Thonis-Heracleion was an extravagant, pre-Alexandrian international trade hub in the first millennium BCE. The city had huge religious significance, as it housed the grand Temple of Amun. Hints of its location could only be found in ancient texts and rare inscriptions. Thonis-Heracleion had been considered a mere legend until only recently.

The city was called Thonis by the Egyptians and Heracleion by the Greeks, hence its current name. Anyone coming into the port had to stop and unloaded their cargo so it could be inspected and taxed by temple officials. Those who refused would have their ships deliberately sunk. To win favor, some would bring votives of Egyptian deities.

Similar to Pompeii, this is a civilization frozen in time. Evidence shows that this was a majestic and wealthy place of grandeur. The city’s population seemed to have peaked from the 6th to the 4th century BCE.

Amidst over 700 anchor points and over 60 beautifully preserved shipwrecks, they have recovered a trove of artifacts said to be in excellent condition. Retrieved material includes everything from colossal statues, inscripted tablets, architectural elements, jewelry, coins, bronze statuettes, pottery, and strange ritual objects. Most of the material depicts Egyptian deities Osiris, Isis, and Horus.

The city was discovered about 4 miles off the present coast, extending into the western side of Aboukir Bay. Excavations will continue in a joint effort between The Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Oxford, the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology and Egypt’s Ministry of State for Antiquities. The results of this in-depth (no pun intended) research was recently presented at an international conference at the University of Oxford.

So what happened to this once glorious city? Evidence suggests that it sunk into the Mediterranean in the 8th century CE after multiple natural disasters, perhaps a deluge. There is no conclusive evidence yet, so for now, it remains a mystery.

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