Like a real-life Atlantis, two Egyptian cities suddenly sunk beneath the waves of the Mediterranean Sea 1,200 years ago. The cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus were important harbors near the Nile delta and they were destroyed suddenly in the 8th century C.E. Archeologists believe that an earthquake liquefied the clay upon which the two cities were built.
After the earthquake, the cities became the stuff of legend, and for 1,200 years nobody was able to cast an eye on their magnificence. They were rediscovered 15 years ago by Franck Goddio, a French marine archeologist looking for sunken Napoleonic ships.
A new exhibition, opening at the British Museum next May, will show over 200 objects excavated from the Egyptian seabed. Among these artifacts, visitors will be able to see a 5.4-meter-tall (17.7-foot-tall) statue of the god Hapy, which represented, ironically, the periodic flooding of the Nile.
The exhibition focuses on how different cultures came to interact and live together in these two commercial centers. It showcases Goddio’s discovery, which has been hailed as one of the most important of the last 30 years, and it is the first to focus on underwater archeology at the British Museum. It is entitled "Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds" and it will run for six months from May 19 until November 27, 2016.
“The catastrophe that struck was sudden – we have found human remains under tumbled blocks of stone. The result is that we have something that is very untouched, a sort of underwater Pompei,” Goddio told The Independent.
Although the exhibition promises to showcase unique artifacts, they are but a small fraction of the possible material still submerged, with up to 450 objects per square meter. The ruins extend over 110 square kilometers (40 square miles) and it’s buried underneath three meters (10 feet) of sediment at the bottom of the Mediterranean.