Sunken Egyptian City Thonis Found After More Than a Millennium

by KIDS DISCOVER

Heracleion

The ancient city of Atlantis is said to have vanished into the sea centuries ago. We have yet to find that watery metropolis (no matter what The Little Mermaid may tell you), but a few long-lost cities have been found — and one in particular has yielded a rich trove of soggy treasures.

Greek texts referred to a place called Heracleion. The Egyptians had a city called Thonis. For centuries, Egyptologists puzzled over these two cities, but in 2000, French underwater archeologist Franck Goddio solved the mystery: Thonis and Heracleion were two names for the same place.

In the 5th century BC, Greek historian Herodotus wrote that a great temple was built where the hero Heracles first stepped onto Egyptian soil (hence the name).

Located in Aboukir Bay and founded around the 8th century BC, the city thrived as Egypt’s primary port for all boats coming from Greece. Canals ran all through it, forming islands and harbors. More than 700 ancient anchors have been found there, along with more than 60 shipwrecks dating to between the 6th and 2nd centuries BC. Because so much of the treasure recovered there dates to that period, scientists believe it was the city’s heyday.

When Alexandria was founded in 331 BC just a few miles to the south and west, Thonis-Heracleion lost some of its maritime significance. But its temple of Amun remained important, and many of the artifacts recovered in the city have ritual meanings: temples, statues, steles, and sacred objects.

So what happened — and when? Everything found at Thonis can be dated to the late 8th century AD or earlier, so scientists believe it sank then — along with the nearby cities of Portus Magnus and Canopus — for a few reasons:

• A series of natural disasters, including earthquakes and floods

• Slow sinking of the soil, compounded by rising water levels

• The weight of heavy stone buildings, such as temples, which may have sped up liquefaction of the soil.

Goddio says we’ll be studying the site for 200 years to come — it’s that rich.

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