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Treasures of a forgotten underwater world

16th May 2016

Above: The ruins of antique Canpus were located at some 2km east of the western fringe of the Nile delta, in Aboukir Bay. Copyright Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation - Photo: Christoph Gerigk

Submerged at the mouth of the river Nile for over a thousand years, the lost Egyptian cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus have been recently rediscovered beneath the sand. The BP exhibition Sunken cities: Egypt's lost worlds is the British Museum's first large-scale exhibition displaying these underwater discoveries. 300 outstanding objects are brought together, showing how much there is to learn from the exploration of these ancient civilisations. 

Colossal statue of god Hapy, Thonis-Heracleion, Aboukir Bay, Egypt (SCA 281). Copyright Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation - Photo: Christoph Gerigk

Left: Stele of Thonis-Heracleion, Thonis-Heracleion, Aboukir Bay, Egypt (SCA 277). Right: 'Garden vat'. Pink granite. Ptolemaic Period, IVth-IInd century BC. Thonis-Heracleion, Aboukir Bay (SCA 459). Copyright Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation - Photo: Christoph Gerigk

A variety of objects will be on display, ranging from modest to grand, delicate jewellery to large sculptures. Thanks to their underwater home over the years, the ancient artefacts are well preserved and shine light on how Greece and Egypt interacted in the late first millennium BC. 

Stele of Thonis-Heracleion, Thonis-Heracleion, Aboukir Bay, Egypt (SCA 277). The intact stele is inscribed with the decree of Sa√Įs and was discovered on the site of Thonis-Heracleion. Copyright Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation - Photo: Christoph Gerigk

Left: Stele of Thonis-Heracleion, Thonis-Heracleion, Aboukir Bay, Egypt (SCA 277). Right: Statue of Arsinoe, Canopus, Aboukir Bay, Egypt (SCA 208). A statue of one of the queens of the Ptolemaic dynasty, dressed as the goddess Isis. Copyright Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation - Photo: Christoph Gerigk

At 5.4m high, the colossal statue representing the god Hapy would've taken some skill to unearth from the depths of the Nile! The red granite god of flooding of the Nile was a symbol of abundance and fertility. Never before has this god been discovered at such a large scale and can only point to the importance he must've had for the Canopic region, originally decorating the temple of Thonis-Heracleion.

A diver brings to light an Osiris-Canopus found at the site of Canopus Aboukir Bay, Egypt (SCA 205) Copyright Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation - Photo: Christoph Gerigk

Left: Colossal statue of god Hapy, Thonis-Heracleion, Aboukir Bay, Egypt (SCA 281). Right: Statue of Osiris, Egyptian Museum Cairo (JE30997, CGC 38231) Copyright Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation - Photo: Christoph Gerigk

Found in Tanis in the royal tomb of the Pharaoh Sheshonk II, this gold and lapis lazuli pectoral originally belonged to Sheshonk I (945-925 BC), indicated by an inscription on the gold plaque. The pendant depicts the solar barque floating on the primeval waters under a starry night sky. The lapis-lazuli sun shows Maat, the goddess of truth and cosmic order, adoring Amon-Re. There is something wonderful in knowing thousands of years ago, people were expressing their stories through colour and illustration in the same way we do today. 

Pectoral in gold, lapis lazuli and glass paste, Egyptian Museum, Cairo (JE 72171) Copyright Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation - Photo: Christoph Gerigk

Colossal statue of god Hapy, Thonis-Heracleion, Aboukir Bay, Egypt (SCA 281). Copyright Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation - Photo: Christoph Gerigk

Sunken cities: Egypt's lost worlds

19 May - 27 November 2016

Tickets: £16.50, children under 16 free

Open: Saturday - Thursday 10am - 5.30pm, Friday 10am - 8.30pm. Last entry is 80 minutes before closing time.

British Museum

Sainsbury Exhibition Gallery (Room 30)

Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG

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