November 21, 2016
We love the British Museum for corporate events and private parties, with their various spaces available for drinks receptions right through to full sit down dinners! Due to the space available, the Museum offers a unique area in which you can celebrate your function right next to the Rosetta Stone! But we don’t always look at these venues with a focus on events and hiring entertainment; sometimes we like to visit to see what they have on display as well, which is exactly why we headed over to the British Museum over the weekend, indulging ourselves in their fabulous Sunken Cities exhibition.
Having binge watched all of the Indiana Jones films and the complete back catalogue of Time Team, you could be forgiven for thinking that being an archaeologist is the coolest job in the world. Not so. It turns out that the actual coolest job in the world is that of underwater archaeologist; discovering various items that have been submerged under the sea for thousands of years. Sunken Cities at the British Museum concerns the lost cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, which lay out the mouth of the Nile. Despite having been read about in ancient texts, their exact location was a mystery and it was believed until recently that they had simply succumbed to the ravages of time and would forever remain undiscovered.
Though a pilot had flown over the Mediterranean in the 1930s and thought that he had seen something, it wasn’t until 1996 that scientists really began to explore the deep, helped largely due to technological advances. What these underwater archaeologists discovered was breathtaking; perfectly preserved statues that had lain undisturbed in the silt of the Nile delta for millennia, tiny trinkets from ancient Egyptian festivals and incredibly, clear evidence of the connections between the great ancient civilisations of Egypt and Greece.
The exhibition itself takes you through a number of rooms, but wows you from the get-go with a humongous statue that would have lain at the entrance to Thonis-Heracleion, one of Egypt’s most important commercial trades ports. A short film provides a glimpse of divers rescuing the exhibits from the sea and the excitement from all visitors is palpable – just what did the underwater archaeologists find?
Without spoiling Sunken Cities, you can rest assured that there isn’t just one colossal statue on display but a vast number. Although these are remarkable and impressive, the smaller items are just as fascinating too; from intricate gold jewellery to festival trinkets, there is a lot to admire and explore. Through the discoveries on the display, we journey through the centuries of Egyptian and Greek encounters, discovering exactly how their civilisations came to be. Under such leaders as Alexander the Great, the Ptolemaic dynasty, Cleopatra and Hadrian, we learn how the region changed and adapted over the course of a number of centuries.
Moving through Thonis-Heracleion (the discoveries helpfully allowed scholars to learn that the trading port of Thonis and the trading port of Heracleion were in fact the same place, just named differently by the Egyptians and Greeks), the exhibition also focuses on the lost city of Canopus, a major centre for worship of the Egyptian Gods. Here, guests are invited to discover the cult of Osiris, the God of the underworld who held the promise of eternal life. With masterpieces on display that have never before left Egypt, it’s fair to say that Sunken Cities is definitely worth the ticket price.
Although not everything found on the seabed can be on display – it is estimated only 5% of the cities’ have been excavated – there are still remarkable photos and discoveries of what is still to come; a 10 –metre-long wooden boat used in a vast ancient Egyptian festival is complete and still lies on the seabed! As for our favourite item on display? That has to be a magnificent sculpture of Taweret, the Egyptian God of childbirth and fertility, which takes the form of a hippo, human and crocodile.
Sunken Cities at the British Museum is a must see exhibition but you’ll have to be quick! It ends next week, so hurry along to see this fabulous event before it closes.
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By Henry Fosdike