The latest season of excavation at Thonis-Heracleion has produced further impressive finds, including another ship and a Greek funerary area.
The port city of Thonis-Heracleion once sat at the mouth of the Nile and played a central role in trade between Egypt and the Mediterranean and beyond. The city was submerged by the sea after a series of natural disasters in antiquity, and it now lies underwater in the Bay of Aboukir, off the coast of Egypt. The site was rediscovered in 2000 by Franck Goddio and a team from the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM), and work over the last two decades has revealed many features of the lost city, among them a vast temple to Amun-Gereb, several large statues, and more than 70 ships (see CWA 60, 95, and 97).
Most of the boats studied so far date to the Late Period (664-332 BC) but the latest discovery is a Ptolemaic galley (305-30 BC). The 25m-long, flat-bottomed rowing boat had a large sail too, making it perfectly suited for navigating the Nile and the Delta. The ship was sunk when the temple of Amun collapsed in the 2nd century BC after an earthquake. Huge blocks from the temple fell into the canal that ran alongside it, where this galley was moored at the time, pinning the boat to the bottom of the canal and consequently preserving its remains. The find is particularly significant because fast galleys like this are rarely found from this period. Just one other example is known so far: the Punic Marsala Ship (235 BC), which was discovered in 1971 in Sicily.
Also recently discovered was a tumulus measuring 60m long and 8m wide that was covered with funerary offerings left by the Greek merchants and mercenaries who settled in the city in the late Pharaonic period. Among the objects found were bronze artefacts, imported Greek ceramics, and wicker fruit baskets still containing grape seeds and doum (the fruit of the African palm tree). Evidence of burning points to ceremonial activities here, and it is thought that the funerary area was sealed several centuries before the city’s demise, as no material has been found dating to later than the early 4th century BC.
Find out more about underwater archaeological research in the ancient Portus Magnus of Alexandria in this online lecture by Franck Goddio on 2 December 2021: www.franckgoddio.org/ocma-online-symposium-2021.