Most of the press coverage this week comprised of variations on an AP piece on Franck Goddio’s explorations of the underwater ruins of Alexandria, with a special focus on Cleopatra’s palace (to coincide with the exhibition in Philadelphia). Here’s the incipit of a representative item:
Plunging into the waters off Alexandria Tuesday, divers explored the submerged ruins of a palace and temple complex from which Cleopatra ruled, swimming over heaps of limestone blocks hammered into the sea by earthquakes and tsunamis more than 1,600 years ago.
The international team is painstakingly excavating one of the richest underwater archaeological sites in the world and retrieving stunning artifacts from the last dynasty to rule over ancient Egypt before the Roman Empire annexed it in 30 B.C.
Using advanced technology, the team is surveying ancient Alexandria’s Royal Quarters, encased deep below the harbor sediment, and confirming the accuracy of descriptions of the city left by Greek geographers and historians more than 2,000 years ago.
Since the early 1990s, the topographical surveys have allowed the team, led by French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio, to conquer the harbor’s extremely poor visibility and excavate below the seabed. They are discovering everything from coins and everyday objects to colossal granite statues of Egypt’s rulers and sunken temples dedicated to their gods.
“It’s a unique site in the world,” said Goddio, who has spent two decades searching for shipwrecks and lost cities below the seas.
The finds from along the Egyptian coast will go on display at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute from June 5 to Jan. 2 in an exhibition titled “Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt.” The exhibition will tour several other North American cities.
Many archaeological sites have been destroyed by man, with statues cut or smashed to pieces. Alexandria’s Royal Quarters — ports, a cape and islands full of temples, palaces and military outposts — simply slid into the sea after cataclysmic earthquakes in the fourth and eighth centuries. Goddio’s team found it in 1996. Many of its treasures are completely intact, wrapped in sediment protecting them from the saltwater.
“It’s as it was when it sank,” said Ashraf Abdel-Raouf of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, who is part of the team.
Tuesday’s dive explored the sprawling palace and temple complex where Cleopatra, the last of Egypt’s Greek-speaking Ptolemaic rulers, seduced the Roman general Mark Antony before they committed suicide upon their defeat by Octavian, the future Roman Emperor Augustus. [...]
A few more examples (the Daily Mail has very nice photos of some of the finds; the Yahoo link is also slideshow):
- Divers Explore Sunken Ruins Of Cleopatra’s Palace | NPR
- Divers explore sunken ruins of Cleopatra’s palace | Herald Tribune
- Sunken treasure – divers recover the stunning artefacts of Cleopatra’s palace | Daily Mail
- Sunken ruins of Cleopatra’s temple excavated Play Slideshow | Yahoo
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Inquirer was hyping the exhibition with a piece that mentioned the above briefly, but then went on about Taposiris Magna, and included some more from Dr. Hawass, inter alia:
Outside the temple, a large Ptolemaic cemetery was unearthed. Some of its many mummies were gilded, and all their heads were turned toward the temple, which Hawass said could mean an important person, or persons, were buried inside.
He didn’t venture to estimate when the team might discover the tomb itself, but said the excavation project itself was significant: While many have searched for the tomb of Alexander the Great in Alexandria and Siwa, no one has looked for the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.
“We know that Cleopatra built a palace and tomb . . . but both of these are now underwater in the harbor of Alexandria,” he said. “We know from ancient writers that Cleopatra was never buried in her tomb. This is why we have turned our focus to the Isis temple . . .. If they were buried inside the temple, they would be symbolic of the husband and wife, Isis and Osiris, buried together.”
Hawass’ favorite piece, which he found inside the temple, is an alabaster head of Cleopatra. “When I held the head in my hand,” he said, “I felt the magic of the queen, and I imagined what it would feel like if we found the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Antony.” [...]
I guess we have to keep in mind the item I mentioned the other day as needing to be filed away for future reference, but we are now forced to ask in which ancient source we might read that Cleopatra was never buried in her tomb. Is any reader of rogueclassicism aware of such? Otherwise, we might want to ponder which cognitive bias we’re being presented with by Dr. Hawass …