Summer blockbuster exhibition at British Museum is its first ever of underwater archaeology


The BP exhibition Sunken cities Egypt’s Lost Worlds open in May and runs for six months. It tells the story of the recent rediscovery of two ancient cities by archaeologists beneath the Mediterranean seabed. 

It will feature the discoveries of the underwater exploration of the cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus – submerged at the mouth of the River Nile for over a thousand years.


1A diver using a brush on the site of Canopus; statue of Hapy and raising a find. All photo credits Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation


More than 300 outstanding objects will be brought together for the exhibition including more than 200 spectacular finds excavated off the coast of Egypt near Alexandria between 1996 and 2012. 

Thanks to the underwater setting, a vast number of objects of great archaeological significance have been astonishingly well preserved including pristine monumental statues, fine metalware and gold jewellery. 

BM2  OSI1845 to scalePectoral in gold, lapis lazuli and glass paste, found in Tanis in the royal tomb of the Pharaoh Sheshonk II

These artefacts offer a new insight into the quality and unique character of the art of this period and show how the Greek kings and queens who ruled Egypt for 300 years adopted and adapted Egyptian beliefs and rituals to legitimise their reign.

BM3 HERACG 21Divers find what is called the Garden Vat made of pink granite

The underwater excavations were led by French archaeologist Franck Goddio. In 2000 he discovered the city of Herakleion–Thonis 7 km off the Egyptian shore in Aboukir Bay.

He led the excavation of the submerged site of Eastern Canopus and of Antirhodos in the ancient harbour of Alexandria (Portus Magnus).  He has also excavated ships in the waters of the Philippines, significantly the Spanish Galleon San Diego.

2Colossal statue of Hapy; diver finds an Osiris-Canopus, Aboukir Bay and Alexander the Great

Goddio, President of Institut Européen d’Archéologie Sous-Marine (IEASM) and exhibition co-curator said ‘My team and I, as well as the Hilti Foundation, are delighted that the exhibition with discoveries from our underwater archaeological expeditions off the coast of Egypt will be on display at the British Museum. 

‘It enables us to share with the public the results of years of work at the sunken cities and our fascination for ancient worlds and civilisations. Placing our discoveries alongside selected masterpieces from the collections of Egyptian museums, complemented by important objects from the British Museum, the exhibition presents unique insights into a fascinating period in history during which Egyptians and Greeks encountered each other on the shores of the Mediterranean.’

British Museuem1 C146756The ruins of antique Canopus were located at some 2km east of the western fringe of the Nile delta, in Aboukir Bay

The cities of Thonis- Heracleion and Canopus were founded during the 7th century BC. TThey were busy, cosmopolitan cities that once sat on adjacent islands at the edge of the fertile lands of the Egyptian Delta.

After Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt in 332BC, centuries of Greek (Ptolemaic) rule followed. The exhibition shows how cross-cultural exchange and religion flourished, particularly the worship of the Egyptian god of the afterlife, Osiris.

By the 8th century AD, the sea had reclaimed the cities and they lay hidden several metres beneath the seabed, their location and condition unclear.

Although well-known from Egyptian decrees and Greek mythology and historians, past attempts to locate them were either fruitless or very partial. The exhibition shows how the pioneering  dive team led by Goddio in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry ofAntiquities made use of the most up-to-date technologies to find them.




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