Sunken Treasures

There is an exhibition in Paris right now titled “Egypt’s Sunken Treasures”. It showcases giant statues, jewelry, coins, ritual objects, etc, that offer a rare insight into the transition between the Pharaonic to the Hellenic to the Roman age, from a cultural and religious viewpoint. If you’re into ancient history like me, you’d like this exhibition. For me, it was particularly interesting to see how conquerors modified and assimilated religious elements of the conquered, in an attempt to legitimise their own rule. Some of the artifacts on display are marked by religious influences from all three ages!

The marine archaeology team, led by Frenchman Franck Goddio, discovered the treasures off the coast of Alexandria and the Bay of Aboukir in Egypt. The treasures used to stand on parts of the ancient city of Alexandria, the lost city of Herakleion, and the suburbs of Canopus. But a series of natural disasters saw them submerged underwater for more than a millennium and a half – until now.

Did the mention of a lost city intrigue you? It did me. For a long time, historians and archaeologists could not be sure where Herakleion (named after Hercules) was, even though it was mentioned in the Greek historian Herodotus’ The Histories. But a discovery of a stele (a huge stone tablet that Egyptian pharaohs used to inscribe decrees) during one of Goddio’s expeditions solved the mystery. The inscription on the stele states that it was erected on Thonis – the Egyptian name for Herakleion. So Thonis and Herakleion are one and the same. The mystery of a lost city solved!

The simple act of naming the same thing differently resulted in a centuries-old mystery, just like the lack of naming conventions for documents often result in them being lost forever in the depths of a repository. You can ask people to upload all the documents there is, but without a common way of describing them (in the metadata), you can be standing on a sea of treasures and never know it.

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