All images courtesy of Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation, photo: Christoph Gerigk

Maritime trade thrived in Egypt, even before Alexandria

New research into Thonis-Heracleion, a sunken port-city that served as the gateway to Egypt in the first millennium BC, is being examined at an international conference at the University of Oxford. The port city, situated 6.5 kilometres off today’s coastline, was one of the biggest commercial hubs in the Mediterranean before the founding of Alexandria.The Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Oxford is collaborating on the project with the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM) in cooperation with Egypt’s Ministry of State for Antiquities.This obligatory port of entry, known as ‘Thonis’ by the Egyptians and ‘Heracleion’ by the Greeks, was where seagoing ships are thought to have unloaded their cargoes to have them assessed by temple officials and taxes extracted before transferring them to Egyptian ships that went upriver. In the ports of the city, divers and researchers are currently examining 64 Egyptian ships, dating between the eighth and second centuries BC, many of which appear to have been deliberately sunk. Researchers say the ships were found beautifully preserved, l in the mud of the sea-bed. With 700 examples of different types of ancient anchor, the researchers believe this represents the largest nautical collection from the ancient world. ‘The survey has revealed an enormous submerged landscape with the remains of at least two major ancient settlements within a part of the Nile delta that was crisscrossed with natural and artificial waterways,’ said Dr Damian Robinson, Director of the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Oxford. Dr Robinson, who is overseeing the excavation of one of the submerged ships known as Ship 43, has discovered that the Egyptians had a unique shipbuilding style. He is also examining why the boats appear to have been deliberately sunk close to the port.

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