Sunken Treasures From Ancient Egypt Are Now on Display in France

The Arab World Institute in Paris shows off 250 artifacts once lost underwater

A diver holds a granite head, meant to be the head of a priest, from the Ptolemaic period. The now-hollow eyes were probably inlaid when it was first made in ancient Egypt. Christoph Gerigk
An archaeologist measures the foot of a column discovered at the site of the temple of Amun-Gereb in Thonis-Heracleion, an ancient city now underwater. Christoph Gerigk
A wedjat eye of Horus, son of Osiris, found in the submerged city of Thonis-Heracleion in Aboukir Bay, Egypt. Christoph Gerigk
An ancient oil lamp recovered from Aboukir Bay. It was likely used during ceremonies honoring Osiris. Christoph Gerigk
These two statuettes of Osiris are part of the Arab World Institute's exhibits, on loan from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. In ancient times they were used during the mysteries, or celebrations, of Osiris. Christoph Gerigk
Leaden models of papyrus boats used in the sacred procession during the mysteries of Osiris. Christoph Gerigk
This jeweled pendant, on loan from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, belonged to Pharaoh Sheshonk I in about the 10th century BC. Christoph Gerigk
This bronze statuette of a pharaoh, unearthed in Aboukir Bay by archeologists, was found underwater in the area of the temple at Thonis-Heracleion. Christoph Gerigk
A ceramic image of the god Bes, probably from the 3rd or 2nd century BC, found underwater. The fearsome god's statue may have protected a chapel or sanctuary related to Osiris and the god Apis. Christoph Gerigk
Here, the bronze statuette of a pharaoh, shown in another image, when it was still underwater in the hands of a diver. Christoph Gerigk

For seven years, archaeologists have been unearthing artifacts dating back to ancient Egypt that were buried, until recently, at the bottom of the Mediterranean—and those treasures are now on display at a cultural institute in Paris.

In an exhibit called “Osiris, Sunken Mysteries of Egypt,” the Arab World Institute is revealing 250 objects from underwater excavations conducted by archaeologist Franck Goddio, the founder and president of the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology. The exhibition also includes 40 pieces on loan from Egyptian museums, some of which are leaving the country for the first time.

The underwater artifacts come from the ancient cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, which are now submerged off the coast of the Bay of Aboukir near Alexandria. These once-prosperous cities, writes the Guardian, “were almost erased from mankind’s memory after sinking beneath the waves in the 8th century AD following cataclysmic natural disasters including an earthquake and tidal waves.” In 1996, Goddio launched a collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry for Antiquities to survey and map the submerged land beneath the bay. That led to the re-discovery of the city of Canopus in 1997 and the nearby city of Thonis-Heracleion in 2000. Archeologists estimate that only one or two percent of what’s buried beneath the cities has been excavataed.

The exhibit takes its name from the legend of Osiris. Osiris, the story goes, was killed and cut into pieces by his brother Seth. Isis, Osiris’s sister-wife, “magically restored his body, brought him back to life and conceived their son Horus,” as the institute explains. Afterward, Osiris became the master of the afterlife—and his son Horus, after defeating Seth, his father’s brother and killer, “received Egypt as his inheritance.” The myth was celebrated in ancient times through an annual religious celebration in some parts of Egypt, including Canopus and Thonis-Heracleion.

Goddio and his team have found items that appear to be directly related to the Osiris ceremonies, including monuments, statues, ritual instruments, cult offerings and testimonies of celebrations. According to text they found inscribed on a stela—a stone slab or column bearing a commemorative inscription—the ceremonies “culminated in a long water procession, transporting Osiris along canals from the temple of Amun-Gereb in Thonis-Heracleion to his shrine in the city of Canopus.” The exhibit, which opened September 8 and will continue through January 31, 2016, shows visitors what these ancient annual traditions entailed, and offers a glimpse at a culture now lost beneath the sea.

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