In a major new exhibition, ‘Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds’, around 250 objects recently excavated from the Mediterranean Sea will be displayed alongside fascinating objects from major Egyptian museums, on show for the first time in the UK.
The artefacts, which include sacred statues, ritual objects and gold jewellery, were uncovered by a team of underwater archaeologists using groundbreaking technologies. They come from two Ancient Egyptian cities that once stood at the mouth of the Nile: Thonis-Heracleion, which was a commercial hub, and Canopus, a centre for the worship of Egyptian gods. Until their discovery in the 1990s, the two cities had lain submerged under the sea since the eighth century AD.
Here we take a look at some of the remarkable objects from the exhibition…
The two images above show a colossal statue of red granite representing the god Hapy, which decorated the temple of Thonis-Heracleion. The god of the flooding of the Nile, a symbol of abundance and fertility, has never before been discovered at such a large scale, which points to his importance for the Canopic region. Early Ptolemaic period, fourth century BC. (Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation/Christoph Gerigk)
This statue of the bull god Apis, which dates to Emperor Hadrian’s reign, was discovered at the entrance to the underground galleries of the Serapeion of Alexandria. (Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation/Christoph Gerigk)
The intact stele shown in the two images above is inscribed with the decree of Saϊs and was discovered on the site of Thonis-Heracleion. It was commissioned by Nectanebos I (378–362 BC) and is almost identical to the Stele of Naukratis in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The place where it was to be situated is clearly named: Thonis-Heracleion. (Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation/Christoph Gerigk)
A pectoral in gold, lapis lazuli and glass paste, found in Tanis in the royal tomb of the Pharaoh Sheshonk II. This jewel belonged to Sheshonk I (945–925 BC), as indicated by the inscription incised on the left side of the gold plaque below the boat. The pendant represents the solar barque floating on the primeval waters under a star-spangled sky. The lapis-lazuli sun, protected by the spread wings of Isis and Nephtys, shows Maat, the goddess of truth and cosmic order adoring Amon-Re. (Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation/Christoph Gerigk)
A youthful posthumous marble portrait of Alexander the Great from Alexandria. Dating from second or first century BC. (The Trustees of the British Museum)
A pink granite ‘garden vat’ from the Ptolemaic period, dating from the third to fourth century BC. Thonis-Heracleion, Aboukir Bay. (Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation/Christoph Gerigk)
A statue of Arsinoe, cut in hard, dark stone. Complete, it must have been slightly larger than life-size. The statue is certainly one of the queens of the Ptolemaic dynasty (likely Arsinoe II) dressed as the goddess Isis, as confirmed by the knot that joins the ends of the shawl the woman wears, which was representative of the queens during this time period. The statue was found at the site of Canopus. (Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation/Christoph Gerigk)
‘Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds’ opens at the British Museum on Thursday 19 May and runs until 27 November. To find out more, click here.