A lost ancient Egyptian city submerged beneath the sea 1,200 years ago is starting to reveal what life was like in the legendary port of Heracleion (Thonis). For centuries Heracleion (named after Hercules) was thought to be only a legend, a city mentioned by Herodotus, visited by Helen of Troy and Paris (Prince of Troy), her lover.
In fact, Heracleion (Thonis) was a real port. A decade after divers began uncovering its treasures, archaeologists have produced a picture of what life was like in the city in the era of the pharaohs.
Discovering of Heracleion (Thonis)
Heracleion (Thonis) disappeared beneath the Mediterranean Sea 1,200 years ago and was found during a survey of the Egyptian shore at the beginning of the last decade. And there were really many discoveries:
- more than 64 ships buried in the thick clay and sand
- gold coins and weights made from bronze and stone, hinting at the trade that went on
- giant 16 foot statue has been uncovered and also hundreds of smaller statues of minor gods
- slabs of stone inscribed in both ancient Greek and Ancient Egyptian
- dozens of small limestone sarcophagi, which are believed to have once contained mummified animals
Dr Damian Robinson, director of the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Oxford, who is part of the team working on the site, said:
" 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. We are getting a rich picture of things like the trade that was going on there and the nature of the maritime economy in the Egyptian late period. There were things that were coming in from Greece and the Phoenicians. We have hundreds of small statues of gods and we are trying to find out, where the temples to these gods were in the city. The ships are really interesting as it is the biggest number of ancient ships found in one place and we have found over 700 ancient anchors so far.”
The researchers also created a three dimensional reconstruction of the city. The heart of Heracleion was a huge temple of the god Amun-Gereb, the supreme god of the Egyptians at the time. From this stretched a vast network of canals and channels, which allowed the city to become the most important port in the Mediterranean at the time.
Heracleion – a city hidden in sea clay
Heracleion (Thonis) is located in what is now the Bay of Aboukir, now submerged under 150 feet of water. In the 8th Century BC, when the city is thought to have been built, it would have sat at the mouth of the River Nile delta as it opened up into the Mediterranean. Submerging of Heracleion could be caused by gradual sea level rise combined with a sudden collapse of the unstable sediment the city was built on, which caused the area to drop by around 12 feet.
French underwater archaeologist Dr Franck Goddio was the first to rediscover the city while doing surveying of the area while looking for French warships that sank there in the 18th century battle of the Nile. When divers began sifting down through the thick layers of sand and mud, they could barely believe what they found.
“The archaeological evidence is simply overwhelming,” said Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford, who has also been taking part in the excavation. “By lying untouched and protected by sand on the sea floor for centuries everything is brilliantly preserved.” The researchers now also hope that they may even find some sarcophagi used to bury humans.