‘Sunken Cities’ background: discovery and excavation

By | January 11, 2018

With a unique survey-based approach that utilizes the most sophisticated technical equipment, Franck Goddio and his team, in cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry for Antiquities, were able to locate, map and excavate parts of the city of Thonis-Heracleion, which lies about four miles off today’s coastline.

The city is located within an overall research area of about seven by nine miles in the western part of Aboukir Bay at a depth of approximately 30 feet.

Research started in 1996. It took years to map the entire area, and the first discoveries were made in 2000.

Goddio has found important information on the ancient landmarks of Thonis-Heracleion, including the grand temple of Amun and his son Khonsou (Herakles for the Greeks), the harbors that once controlled all trade into Egypt, and the daily life of its inhabitants.

He has also solved a historic enigma that has puzzled Egyptologists over the years. The excavation revealed that Heracleion and Thonis were, in fact, the same city with two names—Heracleion to the Greeks, and Thonis to the Egyptians.

The objects recovered from the excavations illustrate the cities’ beauty and glory and reveal a civilization frozen in time. Excavated material includes colossal statues, inscriptions and architectural elements, jewelry and coins, ritual objects and ceramics.

The quantity and quality of the archaeological material excavated from the site of Thonis-Heracleion show that this city peaked from the 6th to the 4th century BC. A large quantity of coins and ceramics discovered at the site can be dated to this period.

The port of Thonis-Heracleion had numerous large basins and functioned as a hub of international trade. The intense activity in the port fostered the city’s prosperity. More than 700 ancient anchors of various forms and more than 70 wrecks dating from the 6th to the 2nd century BC speak to the intensity of maritime activity here.

The city extended around the temple, with a network of canals running throughout the city. On the islands and islets, dwellings and secondary sanctuaries were located. Excavations here have revealed bronze statuettes and other beautiful archaeological material. On the north side of the temple to Herakles, a grand canal flowed through the city from east to west and connected the port basins with a lake to the west.

The underwater archaeological research in Thonis-Heracleion continues. Goddio estimates that only five percent of the city has been discovered.

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