Divers discover ancient treasures dating 2400 years ago

Ancient Greek archaeological treasures that include ceramics dating 2400-year-old and wicker fruit baskets have been discovered at the site of  an ancient sunken city - Thonis-Heracleion. Reuters describes the sunken city as Egypt’s largest Mediterranean port prior to Alexander the Great founded Alexandria in 331 BC. 

The European Institute for Underwater Archaeology was led by French marine archeologist Franck Goddio who has studied the region for years - including making the sunken city’s first discovery in 2000. This 2021 mission was conducted in close cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of Egypt and has exposed a treasure trove of historical findings at the site of Thonis-Heracleion along the Bay of Aboukir. 

The discoveries

In the North-East entrance canal of the submerged city, the team discovered remains of a large tumulus dating back to the Greek era. A ‘tumulus’ is an ancient burial mound.

This ancient funerary area was covered with funerary offerings dating back to the start of the 4th Century BCE. The protrusion stretches on for 60 meters in length and 8 meters in width and assumes the appearance of an island surrounded by channels. Also discovered was an ancient military vessel dating back to the second century BCE. 

Reuters reports that the ship was moored close to the city’s Temple of Amun which collapsed and sank under the weight of the large blocks where it remains preserved under the debris.

Findings of fast galley Hellenistic ships are very rare with the last one the Punic Marsala Ship being discovered in 235 BCE. Prior to this find, such ships were basically unknown to archeologists. 

 Daily news Egypt reports that the well-preserved sanctuary remains are 7 kilometers off the modern Egyptian coast.

The same publication also gives a series of earthquakes and tidal waves as the triggers of land liquefaction that resulted in the 110 square kilometer portion of the Nile Delta along the cities of Canopus and Thonis-Heracleion to eventually collapse. 

Glimpse into the past 

According to the statement issued to IEASM, Goddio confirms evidence of burnt materials. He alleged that “spectacular ceremonies must have taken place there as there is no evidence of any other objects representing the early 4th Century BCE.

Within the findings were ancient imported Greek ceramics and wicker baskets used for carrying grape seeds and doum fruit - the fruit from an African palm tree. 

It is not unusual for fruit from palm trees to be found in tombs. It is a marvel as to how they have lain untouched for over 2400 years.

The findings show a presence of imported luxury Greek ceramics according to the discovery by wicker filled with grape seeds and doum fruit (an African palm tree found in tombs). This discovery illustrates the presence of Greek mercenaries and merchants.

In his website, Goddio further describes what the ancient city looked like. He points to the discoveries of jewelry, coins, colossal statues, ceramics and ritual objects as depicting a civilization frozen in time. The port city acted as an international trading hub.

The city’s prosperity could also be attributed to the discovery of over 700 ancient anchors alongside over 70 wrecks stretching from the 6th to 2nd Century BC. According to Mr. Goddio underwater archeological research is still ongoing at Thonis-Heracleion. 

Ayman Ashmawy, Head of the Egyptian Antiquities Sector at the Antiquities ministry said that the Hellenic ship discovered was buried under five meters of clay mingled with temple remains. The discovery was thanks to the use of cutting-edge prototype sub-bottom electronic equipment.

Ehab Fahmy, the Head of the central department revealed that the ship's hull was built in classical traditional fashion revealing several intricacies of the ancient shipbuilding techniques of the time. 

The renowned Greek historian Herodotus made mention of the city Heracleion in the 5th Century B.C.E, referencing the same site the Egyptians described as Thônis. A tablet discovered at the site in 2001 with hieroglyphic inscriptions finally solved this name identity mystery.

As per past remarks made to Art Newspaper, Goddio mentions the complexity of preserving underwater objects. For instance, the recovery of the Nile god Hapi’s statue from the sunken city took two and a half years. 

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