Skip to comments.Floods Swept Ancient Nile Cities Away, Experts Says
Posted on 10/18/2001 1:46:50 PM PDT by blam
Floods Swept Ancient Nile Cities Away, Expert Says
By Hillary Mayell
for National Geographic News
October 17, 2001
Two cities that lay at the edge of the Mediterranean more than 1,200 years ago, Herakleion and Eastern Canopus, disappeared suddenly, swallowed by the sea. Now, an international team of scientists may have figured out the mystery of why it happened.
The researchers have concluded that the two cities collapsed when the land they were built on suddenly liquefied.
The cities of Herakleion and Eastern Canopus lay at the edge of the Mediterranean more than 1,200 years ago, but disappeared suddenly when they were swallowed by the sea. Scientists say it occurred because the land on which the cities were built liquefied.
Until recently, the only evidence that they existed came from Greek mythology and the writings of ancient historians. Then, during expeditions in 1999 and 2000, a team of French marine archaeologists headed by Franck Goddio found the ruinsalmost completely intactburied on the seafloor of the Abu Qir Bay in Egypt.
Since then, there has been much speculation about why the cities disappeared so suddenly. Earthquakes, subsistence conditions, and a rise in sea level have all been suggested as possibilities.
"There are no written documents on how, when, or why these two cities went down," said Jean-Daniel Stanley, a geoarchaeologist with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Stanley and his colleagues at the Institut Européen d'Archéologie Sous-Marine in Paris (the European Institute of Marine Archaeology) argue that a major flood of the Nile in the middle of the eighth century A.D was to blame. The flood, they say, triggered the sinking of Eastern Canopus and Herakleion by turning the ground beneath the cities into liquefied mud.
The collapse was sudden and catastrophic, said Stanley. "We can tell," he said, "because in both places we've found gold and jewelry, which, if there had been time, people would have taken with them when fleeing."
Gateways to Egypt
Herakleion and East Canopus once stood at the mouth of the now-extinct Canopic branch of the Nile. Built sometime between the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., as the days of the Egyptian Pharaohs were coming to an end, the cities flourished as gateways to Egypt.
Herakleion was a port of entry to Egypt that grew wealthy collecting taxes on goods being shipped upriver.
Frozen in time below the waters were many temples and statues of gods and goddesses, also attesting to the cities' role as destinations for religious pilgrims.
Until the undersea discovery, historians knew about the cities only through myth and ancient literature. Menelaus, the king of Sparta and husband to Helen, over whom the Trojan War was fought, was said to have stayed in Herakleion following the ten-year war against Troy.
Greek mythology holds that the city of Canopus was named after Menelaus' helmsman, who was bitten by a viper and transformed into a god.
The Greek historian Herodotus wrote of having visited the cities in 450 B.C.
The cities' fortunes declined when Alexander the Great founded Alexandria in 331 B.C. Yet centuries later, Greek geographer Strabo (63 B.C.-A.D.21 ) described the location and wealth of Herakleion, while Seneca (5 B.C.-A.D.65 ) condemned the cities for decadent and corrupt lifestyles.
The cities disappeared mysteriously sometime during the eighth century A.D.
Dating a Disaster
The cities were found at depths of 20 to 23 feet (6 to 7 meters) below the waters of Abu Qir Bay. The ruins of Eastern Canopus are nearly 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) east of the Aku Qir headland; Herakleion rests more than 3 miles (5.4 kilometers) from the shore.
Stanley and his team studied cores from the seafloor, high-resolution seismic profiles, and the composition of the substratelayers of mud, shell, silt, and sand deposited over time. From their analysis, they concluded that the cities fell when a flood caused the land to suddenly liquefy into mud.
Two Arabic coins found at the site date from between A.D. 724 and 743. Written records that document a major flood of the Nile in A.D. 741 to 742 provide a framework for dating the disappearance of the two cities. There are no major earthquakes documented for this period.
Significant flooding not only would cause the river banks to collapse, but also would bring heavy loads of sedimentation. This combined with the weight of the roiling water could have caused the soft, unstable mud on which the cities had been built to liquefy, Stanley and his colleagues argue in Volume 412 of the journal Nature.
The authors note that similar processes have occurred at the mouth of the Mississippi River.
"River mouths shift over time," Stanley explained. "It's been very common after bigger floods for the mouth of the Mississippi to change drastically. You have liquefaction, slumping riverbanks, and parts of land going up and down all over the place."
"Even offshore, two weeks after a major flood," he added, "you can have areas that were underwater suddenly above water and other areas that were above ground completely underwater."
Someone help me here. You mean to tell me that two huge cities lay undiscovered for 1,200 years just below the surface of the water? What do those people do over there?
Apparently not much diving. I'll bet they have been pull up things from there in their nets for centuries.
"To uncover the latest batch of ruins, researchers used geomagnetic mapping, a technique that can differentiate between rock types to detect granite or limestone artifacts beneath layers of sediment. These techniques were instrumental in finding the completely buried ruins of Herakleion, Nur said.
"There was nothing on the surface. Just by diving we would never have discovered this, he said."
You're probably right. Then they throw them back in water not realizing the artifacts they found could help answer many age old questions about the ancient past. What bothers me is the many third-world countries that brag about their indigenous cultures and then let their ancient monuments crumble into dust by exposure to the elements. Consider Greece. Though it's not exactly an "third-world" country, its countryside is littered with the remains of it's ancient past which apparently they don't care about. But they make all kinds of noise about Britain having the "Elgin Marbles."
Update on Mysterious Deep Water Sonar Images Off Western Cuba
Yup....or blow them up like the stupid Taliban did on those 1600 year old (Worlds largest) Buddaha(sp) statues.
Archaeologists have always wondered what happened to Menouthis and Herakleion, prominent Mediterranean coast cities during the Hellenistic period that disappeared into the sea more than 1,000 years ago. How did they come to be wiped off the map? An earthquake? Rising sea levels? No one knew.
Now, an international team of archaeologists, historians and geophysicists believes it has the answers. On June 3, Franck Goddio, president of the Paris-based European Institute of Marine Archeology, in conjunction with the Supreme Council for Egyptian Antiquities, proudly announced the discovery of the two lost cities in Abu Qir Bay, east of Alexandria.
Though waiting to confirm details, the researchers are excited. "We don't know the exact dates of these cities, but we are mapping each structure one by one and we are building an impressive collection," Goddio said.
The sunken cities of Menouthis and Herakleion, also known as Thonis, they believe, were discovered so recently that little excavation has yet been done. Located east of present-day Abu Qir, these cities were wealthy trading ports during the Pharaonic period due to their favorable positions along the now-vanished Canopic branch of the Nile, which ran to the east of the river's present course.
Researchers found two different sites: the first, about two kilometers from land, holds the remains of Menouthis and Canopus (a city discovered previously that hasn't been excavated yet) and covers a 700 by 500 meter area. The second site, whose size is unknown, was found only a few weeks ago and the team believes it is the ruins of Herakleion.
Mentioned in accounts by Herodotus, Strabo and other classical writers, the cities also appear in stories of the Trojan Wars, but researchers had never been able to confirm their existence. Even with the discovery, many questions remain.
"The question now is, why did these cities sink?" said Goddio. Herakleion might offer the best answers: completely buried beneath layers of sediment and mud, it was protected from the salt water and currents, so the ruined houses, temples, giant statues and a port infrastructure were thus preserved.
"This city is absolutely untouched," Goddio said. "Everything is in its original position."
The cities, each of which had a population of three to five thousand people, went into decline following the founding of Alexandria in 331 BC, which quickly became the regional trading powerhouse.
However, they remained important centers of pilgrimage for the Isis and Serapis cults (cult adherents continued to believe in traditional fertility deities like Isis and Osiris long after the introduction of Christianity) until the 6th century AD, according to Manfred Clauss, a Professor of Ancient History at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt.
"[This area] was famous for its cults, Isis temples and Serapis temples [the area] from here to Alexandria was filled with pilgrimage sites," he said.
Then something happened. The cities just disappeared, sometime between the 8th and 10th centuries AD.
Amos Nur, chairman of the Geophysics Department at Stanford University in California, thinks he knows the answer: earthquakes. There is evidence of major earthquakes in the 3rd, 4th and 8th centuries AD, he said, but whether they destroyed the cities in stages or in one giant cataclysm that sunk everything is still unknown.
"The guess right now is earthquakes, because we know earthquakes happened here, but we still need to sort it out," he said. "When did they occur, and where is the fault [line] that's responsible for this?"
A rise in the Mediterranean's water level is another possible cause for the cities' disappearance.
The team also presented a number of sculpture fragments from the Pharaonic and Hellenistic periods, as well as gold coins from the Islamic and Byzantine eras, all recently retrieved from Abu Qir. The finds included the head of a 25th Dynasty Ethiopian Pharaoh from the 7th or 8th century BC and part of a tablet covered in classical astrological inscriptions. Researchers also found a massive head of Serapis from the Greco-Roman period, believed to be from a cult temple in Menouthis.
"I think it is the main discovery in the category of sculpture," said Zsolt Kiss, an art and archaeology expert at the Polish Academy of Science in Warsaw.
High winds and rough seas ruined plans to ferry journalists out to a spot in the bay to watch a statue being pulled from the water. Instead, the statue, a headless Isis in smooth black granite, about 1.5 meters high, had been salvaged earlier in the day and was unveiled in Abu Qir Harbor.
Researchers said the sculpture had only been discovered a few days before, but it was almost certainly from an Isis cult temple in Menouthis. Goddio estimated that the statue was 1,200 years old.
To uncover the latest batch of ruins, researchers used geomagnetic mapping, a technique that can differentiate between rock types to detect granite or limestone artifacts beneath layers of sediment. These techniques were instrumental in finding the completely buried ruins of Herakleion, Nur said.
"There was nothing on the surface. Just by diving we would never have discovered this," he said.
Seismic measurement techniques and acoustic photography (a type of sonar) were used as well, Nur said.
Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni, scheduled to speak at the conference, was unable to attend, the state-owned Al Gomhuriya newspaper reported on June 4. Widespread speculation followed that Hosni, still reeling from the controversies surrounding Syrian writer Haydar Haydar's novel A Banquet for Seaweed and alleged gifts of antiquities to foreign diplomats, did not want to face the press.
Goddio has been exploring the waters off Alexandria since 1996. Previous finds have included L'Orient, Napoleon's flagship, destroyed by the British fleet in the Battle of the Nile in 1798, and Cleopatra's Royal Quarters.
After four years of excavation, this is just the beginning, according to Gaballa Ali Gaballa, chairman of the Supreme Council for Egyptian Antiquities.
"This is just a glimpse of what the waters of Abu Qir are holding," he said. "I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say we have work here for the next 50 years."
Yup. Especially in the river delta areas. I bet the Ganges could tell a story too.
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on, off, or alter the "Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list --
Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.
The GGG Digest -- Gods, Graves, Glyphs (alpha order)
2001? An oldie but goodie.
Scientists say it occurred because the land on which the cities were built liquefied.The liquefied sand could have got that way due to the rising ocean levels (since this was during the Medieval warming period), but the earthquake giving it that little extra shove is still plausible. :') The mudslide that buried Herculaneum came about because of the rain that accompanied the eruption and shaking of the mountainside.
related to the medieval warming:
Stark contrast to Environmentalists' Claims
Middle Ages were warmer than today, say scientists
Daily Telegraph | April 6, 2003 | Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent
Posted on 04/06/2003 1:53:02 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
Middle Ages Were Warmer Than Today, Say Scientists
UK Telegraph ^ | Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent
Posted on 04/07/2003 8:46:28 PM PDT by Ethyl
other Egyptian threads I've surfed today:
Black Pharaoh Trove Uncovered
BBC ^ | 1-20-2003 | Ishbel Matheson
Posted on 01/20/2003 2:39:11 PM PST by blam
Royal Nubia lies under sand
National Post ^ | 4-22-02 | Margaret Munro
Posted on 04/22/2002 3:38:54 PM PDT by vannrox
Bubonic Plague Traced To Ancient Egypt (Black Death)
National Geographic News ^ | 3-10-2004 | Cameron Walker
Posted on 03/11/2004 3:40:50 PM PST by blam
Elite College History Survey
News/Current Events News Keywords: 81% RECEIVED D OR FAILING GRADE
Source: The Center for Survey Research & Analysis (CSRA) at the University of Connecticut
Author: 556 telephone interviews (December 1999)
Posted on 07/04/2000 16:19:36 PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
How the Pharaoh Rameses took an unscheduled trip to Niagara Falls
News/Current Events News
Source: Daily Express (U.K.)
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New Bibles rediscover African biblical characters
Source: Mpls (red)star Tribune / Religion News Service
Published: 9/16/00 Author: Shelvia Dancy
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Re-Writing History: Leftist Jihadis Hunting Down Jesus Wherever He's Found
Human Events Online ^ | December 1, 2004 | Mac Johnson
Posted on 12/01/2004 9:25:11 AM PST by hinterlander
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