Ancient Temple Discovered in Lost Underwater Egyptian City

Divers never know what they’ll uncover under the sea’s pure beauty, possibly even an underwater temple. Everything from ships to human remains has been unearthed on the ocean floor at some point. Ancient societies, in particular, have left incredible riches in the murky shadows of the water, and even expert divers are occasionally taken aback by what they find.

A recent example of the beautiful bounty awaiting underwater explorers was discovered in Heracleion, an Egyptian city long lost to the sea. Although experts and divers initially identified the site in the Mediterranean in 2000, a team unearthed an assortment of newly unknown rich antiques this summer. They found gold jewelry, money, temple fragments, and even a broken-off section of an antique watercraft used in rites and celebrations. Thonis is another name for this city given by archaeologists.

Scanning technology enabled underwater archaeologists, as these highly trained experts are known, to peek carefully at the sea floor. Despite the fact that they’ve been diving for over two decades and have recovered 75 boats, they were especially happy to find a specific piece from the boat used for ceremonial purposes.

The ruins of a temple were discovered in the now-underwater ancient Egyptian city of Heracleion. (Image: © Christoph Gerigk/Hilti Foundation/Egypt Ministry of Antiquities)

The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities issued a statement indicating that the city was once a bustling, vibrant town teeming with people, merchants, and others leading frantic lives not unlike to our own. It was built on the banks of the Nile in the eighth century B.C.

A gold earring found at the underwater site. (Image credit: Christoph Gerigk/Hilti Foundation/Egypt Ministry of Antiquities)

According to scientists, one of the significant events that occurred there was Cleopatra’s ascent and crowning in a nearby temple. Franck Goddio, who has been on the underwater dig since it began 19 years ago, leads the team. This portion of the dig took place over the course of two months this summer.

The city flooded some 1500 years ago, and it now rests 150 feet beneath water on the ocean bottom. Other unique jewels and antiques uncovered since the start of rescue efforts include columns and remnants of a Greek temple. The city was named after Hercules, and some evidence implies that he may have visited it. The ceremonial boat #61, as experts refer to it, was extraordinarily enormous, measuring 43 feet long and 16 feet broad.

The bronze coins discovered date from the period of King Ptolemy II, who ruled from 283 to 246 B.C. In addition to the coins, the researchers discovered ceramics from the third and fourth century B.C.

One of the coins found during the underwater excavation. (Image credit: Christoph Gerigk/Hilti Foundation/Egypt Ministry of Antiquities )

Goddio’s team uncovered more than one ancient city, including Heracleion. In addition to its operations there, the crew is spearheading an underwater dig at Canopus in Alexandria’s Gulf of Qir. So far, they have recovered rare items such as rings, earrings, and money. According to the Ministry, these artifacts prove that Canopus was a bustling, active metropolis in the 4th century B.C. They also discovered the ruins of an old harbor at Canopus, as well as a group of structures that show the city was expanding southward.

Map of Ancient Egypt at the mouth of the Nile. Heracleion can be found on the left.

Egypt is perhaps the most recognized country in the world for its awe-inspiring ancient sites, such as the pyramids, and other “above ground” treasures that may be seen. The tomb of King Tutankhamun, found in the Valley of the Kings in 1922, is a particularly beautiful “unearthed” treasure that is normally on exhibit at Cairo’s Grand Egyptian Museum.

The tomb, as well as various antiques buried with it, has traveled throughout the world several times. King Tut’s tomb, as it is fondly known, is back on display after a major conservation project led by the Ministry and the Getty Conservation Institute in New York. Millions of people have visited the tomb since it originally opened to the public.

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