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Franck Goddio Newsletter

Newsletter April 2018

Dear Friends,

Here is a brief update on what my team and I have been working on during the last couple of months. Our latest research in Egypt has given us some interesting new clues about the ancient structures in Thonis-Heracleion in Aboukir Bay and in Alexandria's eastern harbour. We continued our geophysical surveys in these areas, using a new sediment sounder that has produced exciting results. Our excavations have also revealed new artifacts to help with our interpretations about life in our ports. 

We are happy that the exhibition "Sunken Cities, Egypt's lost worlds" has opened at the Saint Louis Art Museum. It is the North American premiere of the exhibition and will be on view until September. IEASM, together with OCMA, was delighted to take part in a conference in honor of Honor Frost in Cyprus with a paper on one of the ships we discovered in Thonis-Heracleion. There is also a new volume available in our OCMA monograph series "Underwater Archaeology in the Canopic Region in Egypt". And finally, I am happy to announce that in 2018 I became Visiting Professor in Maritime Archaeology at the University of Oxford.

Soon, we are about to leave for Egypt again, in order to resume our research in Aboukir Bay and in Alexandria. Hopefully we will continue to make exciting new discoveries. I will keep you posted!

All the best,


Egypt expedition

During the fall 2017 mission led by the IEASM, in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities and with the support of the Hilti Foundation, we continued our geophysical surveys, including the use of a new sediment sounder in Aboukir Bay on the site of Canopus and in Alexandria. The goal was to better understand the ancient topography of the sites and to improve our understanding of the connection between the cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus before they were totally submerged in the 8th century AD.

Based on the new survey done in 2016, archaeological excavations took place at the Thonis-Heracleion site that revealed a large network of secondary canals that are much more complex and extensive than we thought at first sight. We also discovered the presence of a small lake in front of the temple of Amon-Gereb, both by the specific layers of sediment as well as by the types of artifacts that were placed within it. 

The IEASM also conducted an electronic survey and an excavation campaign in the Portus Magnus in Alexandria Bay. On the secondary branch of the royal island of Antirhodos, we have resumed excavations on the remains of the important structure that had been already identified as a sanctuary to the goddess Isis. The archaeological material, discovered in a disturbed environment, suggests its destruction in the 1st century AD. Bronze coins of Cleopatra VII and gold coins of Augustus were brought to light, associated with a rock crystal head of a man, most probably dating back from the late 1st century BC or early 1st century AD.

We also discovered two ancient shipwrecks in the port of Antirhodos: one is about 7 meters in length and beautifully preserved; the other much bigger, judging from the size of the timber sections uncovered during the test excavation. The remains still have to be studied before we have more detailed information on them. In the south-eastern Poseidium area, surveys and excavations were conducted to complete our topography of this part of the Royal Quarters. In parallel, along the modern Corniche, we were interested in an area buried under a thick layer of sediments (more than 2 metres) close to the ancient coast line of the Portus Magnus. It revealed architectural elements of limestone and pink granite, including an altar, as well as beautiful terra sigillata pottery dating from the 1st century AD and lead seals.

We hope that the upcoming mission will allows us to discover, thanks to the information gathered from the 2017 electronic survey, new elements complementing and further refining our understanding of the submerged Portus Magnus of Alexandria and the sunken cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus.

Exhibition opening in St. Louis

The Saint Louis Art Museum is presenting Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds, the exhibition showcasing finds from Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus and focusing also on the cult of the “Master of the underworld” and the celebrations of the “Mysteries of Osiris”. The North American premiere of "Sunken Cities" is the most significant exhibition of ancient Egyptian art undertaken in St. Louis in more than 50 years.

“Sunken Cities” is on view for an extended, six-month run. The exhibition recently was successfully shown at the Museum Rietberg in Zurich (Osiris – Das versunkene Geheimnis Ägyptens), the British Museum in London and the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris (Osiris, Mystères engloutis d’Égypte). 

“We long have sought an exhibition of ancient Egyptian antiquities that combines both rigorous archaeological research with objects of the highest artistic quality, and ‘Sunken Cities’ was a perfect match for us,” said Brent R. Benjamin, the Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum. “The museum is pleased to bring this groundbreaking, visually stunning exhibition to St. Louis for its first viewing in America.”    

More information and tickets


A conference "Under the Mediterranean" was held in October 2017 to commemorate the Anniversary of the Centenary of Honor Frost's birth on Cyprus. The IEASM in cooperation with the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Oxford (OCMA) took part with a paper by Damian Robinson and Franck Goddio on "Ship 11 from Thonis-Heracleion, Egypt: Boat Sacrifice within an Osirian waterway". This small boat was deliberately scuttled at the western end of the Grand Canal shortly after the foundation of the temple of Amun-Gereb in the fourth century BC. Around it a series of ritual deposits were excavated allowing us to suggest that this act was not simply one to get rid of an unwanted old boat, but that it was part of a carefully planned rite to dispose of a temple barque.

Damian and Franck were also invited to speak at the conference of the Société Française d’Archéologie Classique at the Sorbonne University in Paris, which explored the theme of the archaeology of Hellenism on the islands and coasts of the eastern Mediterranean. In their paper “A port at the edge of the Sea of the Greeks – Hellenism in Thonis-Heracleion, Egypt” they looked at the question of when did Egyptian Thonis become Greek Heracleion and traced the growth of Greek presence in the port.


Oxford University’s Centre for Maritime Archaeology (OCMA) has published a new book on Thonis-Heracleion and the archaeology in the Canopic region in Egypt. The volume Theological defences of the Canopic Gate in the Saïte Period, by Anne-Sophie von Bomhard, investigates a temple at the sunken city of Thonis-Heracleion and explores the theological defences conceived by the Egyptians to guard the Canopic gate during the Saïte Period (664 – 525 BC). 

The temple was located on an island or a peninsula at the point where the waters of the Nile met the Mediterranean Sea. The structure itself was largely robbed in antiquity, but a remarkable range of inscribed bronze objects engraved with royal and divine names were discovered within its demolition layer. Their documentation, analysis and interpretation form the core of this volume, demonstrating the crucial role the temple played in the defence of the kingdom of the Two Lands. 

There is also an article published in the Göttinger Miszellen- Beiträge zur ägyptologischen Diskussion (Heft 253/2017) by Sylvie Cauville and Franck Goddio: entitled "De la Stèle du Satrape (lignes 14-15) au Temple de Kom Ombo (n° 950)", p. ​45-54​, which discusses Thonis-Heracleion as one of “The Gates of Egypt”.