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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ancient Egyptian wonders go on show for the first time at the British Museum | Daily Mail Online

Cities from the deep: Wonders of ancient Egypt go on show for the first time after spending a thousands years submerged beneath the Mediterranean

  • Artefacts dredged up from ruins of lost cities in the Nile delta will go on display at the British Museum on Thursday
  • Highlights include a 5.4 metre statue of a Nile god, a huge hieroglyphic tablet and jewellery belonging to pharaohs
  • The recovered treasure comes from the lost cities of Heracleion and Canopus, which vanished around 800AD

Archaeological wonders that lay beneath the Mediterranean seabed for more than a thousand years are to go on show for the first time.

Towering statues, golden jewellery and hieroglyphic tablets that were feared to have been lost forever have been reclaimed from the sea and will be go on display in a major exhibition at the British Museum.

The treasures belong to the sunken cities of Heracleion and Canopus, built on the shifting ground of the Nile delta, which are now buried beneath 10ft (3 metres) of silt. 

Photographs released today offer a sneak peek inside the highly anticipated exhibition, which opens on Thursday.  

Towering: A visitor looks at the 'Colossal statues of a king and a queen' (283-246 BC), which are refelcted in a display cabinet glass

Long lost treasures: The Stele of Thonis-Heracleion, which was discovered on the site of Thonis-Heracleion. Right, the statue of Arsinoe

Striking: The Statue of Arsinoe, pictured in the new British Museum exhibition, must have been larger than life size fully intact

 Reclaimed from the deeps: Diver Franck Goddio poses with an inscribed tablet he found in the ruins of Heracleion in Aboukir Bay, Egypt

Ancient texts record the existence of the settlements, which were the gateway to Egypt before Alexandria rose to prominence. But the two trading hubs were lost - literally - to the sands of time until a chance discovery in 1996.

Divers in the mouth of the Nile unearthed the treasures, and have spent almost two decades since painstakingly dredging them out of the deep. 

Highlights of the collection include a 6ft (1.9 metre) heirogylphic tablet inscribed with a royal declaration from Pharaoh Nectanebo I and a 5.4m statue of Hapy, an Egyptian god who personifies the Nile's floods. 

The exhibition, called Sunken Cities: Egypt's Lost World, will run from 9 May to November. It will combine items from the Museum's own archives with items on special loan from Egyptian authorities, who rarely let the artefacts leave their country. 

Fascinating: The 1.9m Stele of Thonis-Heracleion, inscribed with the decree of Saϊs and was discovered on the site of Thonis-Heracleion. It was commissioned by Nectanebos I (378-362 BC) and is almost identical to the Stele of Naukratis in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Beautiful: The statue (left) is certainly one of the queens of the Ptolemaic dynasty (likely Arsinoe II) dressed as the goddess Isis

Dramatic: A colossal statue of red granite (5.4 m) representing the god Hapy, which decorated the temple of Thonis-Heracleion. The god of the flooding of the Nile, symbol of abundance and fertility, has never before been discovered at such a large scale

Around 300 items will be put on display, most of which were pulled from the sunken ruins. The underwater conditions in which they were kept mean that a large number of the artefacts have been remarkably well preserved. 

The exhibition will focus on the mingling of cultures in the Nile delta cities, particularly the interaction between Egypt and Ancient Greece.

Other treasures on display will include a statue of Arsinoe II, a queen in the Ptolemaic dynasty which was founded after Alexander the Great conquered the country.

The exhibition shows how a pioneering European team, led by Franck Goddio in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, made use of the most up-to-date technologies to find the lost treasures.

Buried treasure: The ruins of antique Canopus were located at some 2km east of the western fringe of the Nile delta, in Aboukir Bay

Strapped in: A diver secures a 5.4m statue of Hapy, a divine personification of the Nile floods, to be lifted out of the waters (left). Right, a diver brushes away remains from a cow's jaw bone found at the site of Canopus, one of the two uncovered during the research

Heavy lifting: Divers carefully manoeuvre a pink granite 'garden vat' discovered among the silty ruins of Heracleion

Preserved: The thick silt which covered most of the reclaimed artefacts helped preserve them from centuries of decay. Right, a diver brings to light an Osiris-Canopus found at the site of Canopus Aboukir Bay

Reclaimed: The intact Stele of Thonis-Heracleion, now on display at the British Museum, is pictured being carefully lifted out of the Nile

Franck Goddio, the president of the European Institutue of Underwater Archaeology and a co-curator of the exhibition, 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.'

On display: A statue of Osiris, left, dating from the seventh century BC. Right, the intact Stele of Thonis-Heracleion

Gift for the gods: Divers also found several model boats, pictured above, which were metal replicas of tiny papyrus vessels which Egyptians would have set sail at the temple of Amun-Gereb as an offering

Legends: A youthful posthumous portrait of Alexander the Great. Right, a statue of the bull god Apis

Golden: This necklace, a so-called pectoral decorated with lapis lazuli and glass, is on loan from the Egyptian Museum

Worship: Colossal statue of god Hapy, left, which decorated the temple of Thonis-Heracleion. Right, a statue of Arsinoe II

Magnificent: A statue of the bull god Apis, which is on loan from the Greco-Roman Museum, Alexandria

Sunken Cities: Egypt's Lost Worlds runs 19 May-27 November 2016  

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