New discoveries from the lost cities of the Nile delta Egypt’s submerged cities
ABOVE Beneath the waters of Egypt’s
Underwater archaeologists have taken to the waters of Egypt’s Aboukir Bay once more, revealing remarkable new finds from a temple at Thonis-Heracleion. Franck Goddio told Lucia Marchini about the latest results from this year’s excavation at the sunken city.
In the 2nd century BC, disaster struck the Egyptian city of Thonis-Heracleion. A tidal wave and devastating landslides, caused by the liquefaction of soil after an earthquake, brought down entire buildings, burying them beneath the waters of Aboukir Bay and preserving their contents in the dense Nile clay. To date, the spectacular underwater discoveries at the mouth of the Nile include more than 70 ships, which offer insights into ancient shipbuilding, colossal statues and a vast temple dedicated to Amun-Gereb (see CWA 60 and 95). It was to this special, sacred spot that new pharaohs went in order to receive their power from the god Amun. The 150m-long temple at Thonis-Heracleion fell into an ancient canal, filling it. Now, new finds are adding more details to the picture of religious activity at the important sunken city, as underwater archaeologists have uncovered another sacred structure beneath 3m of debris.
‘We already knew about the big temple of Amun-Gereb,’ Franck Goddio, who leads a team from the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM) at Aboukir Bay, told CWA. ‘We discovered a large canal south of the temple, with part of the temple in it. There were bits of architectural debris, ritual instruments, and statuettes in pristine condition. Inside the
Aboukir Bay, archaeologists found the remains of a small tholos, a Greek round temple. Among the fallen Doric columns were ritual artefacts and statuettes, including this 3rd- to 2ndcentury BC Isis-Aphrodite anasyromene.
canal, we also found a small round temple. It is a tholos, a Greek early Doric temple. Years ago, we’d found a round base, so now we understand what it is.’
Greek goddesses With a diameter of 5.5m, the tholos is much smaller than its next-door neighbour, the grand temple of Amun-Gereb. While the identification of the deity worshipped at this diminutive Greek temple is far from certain, there are intriguing clues that it may have been Athena, who, thanks to her ties with navigation, would have been a pertinent presence at a port city that served as the gateway to Egypt for sailors from the Greek world. The Greek goddess is associated with her Egyptian counterpart, Neith, the protector of Lower Egypt, who is honoured in the inscription on the Stele of Thonis-Heracleion, found in the temenos (sacred precinct) of the temple of Amun-Gereb.
Moreover, the underwater excavations at Thonis-Heracleion have previously uncovered a number of coins struck with the image of Athena. Along with the early 4th-century silver coins, Franck’s team found a weight with the impression of the coin, a bronze die, and silver ingots, indicating that there was most i o n i Fo u n d at i l t
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