“There is something extraordinary here. This input was used once, never touched after, because we cannot understand at present. This is a big mystery.”
Baskets filled with fruits that have been preserved since the 4th century BC and hundreds of ancient ceramic artifacts and bronze treasures were discovered in the flooded ruins of the almost legendary city of Thonis-Herakleion off the coast of Egypt.
They have been lying untouched since the city disappeared under the waves in the second century BC and then sank even more in the eighth century AD after catastrophic natural disasters, including earthquakes and tidal waves.
Thonis-Herakleion was for centuries the largest port of Egypt on the Mediterranean Sea before Alexander the Great founded Alexandria in 331 BC.
But the huge site in the Gulf of Aboukir near Alexandria has been forgotten until its rediscovery by French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio two decades ago in one of the greatest archaeological finds of recent times.
Colossal statues were among the treasures of a rich civilization frozen in time. Some of the discoveries were shown at a major exhibition at the British Museum in 2016.
Goddio was amazed by the latest discoveries. He told the Guardian that the fruit baskets were “incredible” as they had not been touched for more than 2,000 years.
They were still filled with the fruit of the African palm tree, sacred to the ancient Egyptians, as well as grape seeds.
“Nothing was disturbed,” he said. “It was very amazing to see the fruit baskets.”
One explanation for their survival may be that they were placed in an underground room, Goddio said, noting a possible funerary subtext.
This is in the area where Goddio and his team of archaeologists discovered a large mound (a hill rising above the graves) – about 60 meters long and 8 meters wide – and luxurious Greek funeral offerings.
They date back to the beginning of the fourth century BC when Greek merchants and mercenaries lived in Tрonis-Herakleion. The city controlled the entrance to Egypt at the mouth of the Canopic arm of the Nile. The Greeks were allowed to settle here during the period of the late Pharaohs, building their own sanctuaries.
Goddio said of the mound: “It’s a kind of island surrounded by canals. In these channels, we found an incredible amount of bronze deposits, including many figurines of Osiris, the ancient Egyptian god of fertility.
“There is something completely different on this island. We found hundreds of deposits of ceramics. One above the other. These are imported ceramics, red on black figures from the attic.
The finds are all the more intriguing because a huge amount of miniature ceramics was discovered under the mound – high-quality samples of ancient Greek culture, including amphorae. There were bronze artifacts around the mound, including mirrors and figurines.
Goddio also found numerous evidence of burning, suggesting a “spectacular” ceremony, as a result of which people were again forbidden to enter the place. Apparently, it was sealed for hundreds of years since none of the artifacts found date back to the beginning of the fourth century, although the city existed for several hundred years.
“There is something extraordinary here,” he said. “This entrance was used perhaps once, never touched before, never touched after, for the reason that we cannot understand at present. This is a big mystery.”
He hopes to find answers in some treasures, including the well-preserved remains of a wooden sofa for banquets, a large attic vase, and a gold amulet of “exquisite quality.”
About 350 meters away, archaeologists discovered a unique Ptolemaic gallery with a length of 25 meters. Built-in the classical tradition with spikes and grooves, it also has the features of an ancient Egyptian design with a flat bottom, which would be ideal for navigating the Nile and delta.
The European Institute of Underwater Archaeology, led by Goddio, works in close cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and with the support of the Hilti Foundation. The finds will be studied and preserved before the exhibition in museums. The potential for further discoveries is teasing. According to Goddio’s estimates, even after repeated excavations over the past two decades, only about 3% of the territory has been explored at the moment.