The British Museum presents a major exhibition entitled Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds which is the Museum’s first large-scale exhibition of underwater discoveries. The exhibition explores the work of archaeologists on two lost Egyptian cities, Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus which have been submerged at the mouth of the River Nile for over a thousand years.
Around 300 objects will be featured in the exhibition which include more than 200 remarkable finds excavated off the coast of Egypt near Alexandria between 1996 and 2012. Important loans from Egyptian museums rarely seen before outside Egypt will be supplemented with objects from the extensive British Museum’s collection.
Dating from the 7th century BC, Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus were cosmopolitan cities that sat on adjacent islands at the edge of the Egyptian Delta. However by the 8th century AD, the sea had reclaimed the cities and they lay hidden beneath the seabed until the archaeology team led by Franck Goddio in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities began to uncover some of the cities secrets.
The exhibition features a number of multimedia screens that illustrate how and where certain objects were found. Covered by silt and sand, a large number of the objects are remarkably well-preserved. One of the larger objects welcomes visitors into the exhibition, the 5.4m granite statue of Hapy, a divine personification of the Nile’s flood stands in the entrance.
The exhibition is in five sections which begins with ‘Rediscovering Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus’ followed by ‘Egypt and Greece : early encounters’. The ‘ Greek Kings and Egyptian Gods’ section explores the legacy of Alexander the Great, ‘ Osiris: from myth to festival ‘ explores the secretive ceremonies surrounding Osiris and finally ‘Egypt and Rome’ illustrates the fusion of Greek and Egyptian across the Roman Empire.
Some of the highlights of the exhibition include the Apis bull from the Serapeum in Alexandria, a sculpture from Canopus representing Arsinoe II (the eldest daughter of Ptolemy I, founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty) and a complete stela from Thonis-Heracleion advertises a 380BC royal decree of the Egyptian pharaoh Nectanebo I.
A range of objects are associated with the Mysteries of Osiris, the most popular festival celebrated annually across Egypt during the month of Khoiak (mid-October to mid-November). Many of the smaller fine metalware and gold jewellery reveal how the Greek kings and queens who ruled Egypt for 300 years used both Greece and Egypt influence to create their own unique culture.
This intriguing exhibition uncovers a small proportion of the secrets from the remarkable archaeological sites of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus. In some ways the underwater sites are similar to Pompeii when a catastrophic event buries the cities and creates a time capsule from which archaeologists can piece together the often complex history from the period. Another fascinating aspect of the exhibition is the series of films that show some of the science and techniques for exploring beneath the surface of the Nile Delta.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds at the British Museum
19 May – 27 November 2016
Adults £16.50, under 16s free
For more information or book tickets, visit the British Museum website here
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