Egypt’s Sunken Mysteries at Minneapolis Institute of Art

Votive foot with Greek inscription, 2nd c. AD

You probably never heard of the lost cities of Heracleion and Canopus.
I hadn’t.

They collapsed into the Mediterranean Sea more than 1200 years ago. Located in the Nile Delta near Alexandria, they were assailed by a combination of earthquakes, tsunamis and rising sea levels. Nothing found in either city dates later than the 2nd century AD when the soil liquified and the buildings collapsed.

Osiris, ca. 650 BC

Two decades ago, underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio and his team discovered the cities, revealing monumental statues, religious images carved in stone, exquisite jewelry, and delicate ceramics that shed more light on life during the age of the pharaohs.

Bronze hawk, 664 – 343 BC.

Until its collapse, Canopus was famous for its sanctuaries of Osiris and Serapis. Pilgrims from all over the world came to visit in search of miraculous healing. The God Osiris was taken on his ritual barque from the Sanctuary of Heracles in Heracleion to his sanctuary in Canopus creating a mystical link between the two cities.

Pectoral, gold and lapis, 925 BC

We often dismiss the incredibly high levels of culture and technology of previous civilizations, discounting them as stunted and less advanced. The artifacts tell a different story. They are masterful and perfectly served the ritualized and stratified structure of ancient society. The slave empires of antiquity were theocracies, highly organized, permeated and structured with religious ritual for millennia. They cannot be dismissed easily but they fossilized as all theocracies must. They also reached intellectual, technological, and artistic peaks which we still do not fully comprehend, and offer us the lesson of Shelley’s “Ozymandias”:

And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The goddess Taweret as a hippopotamus, 650 BC
Sistrum, gold, a musical instrument.
Hadrian, foreground, Antinous behind, 2nd c. AD
The Nile.
Osiris wakes up from death with a smile.
Serapis, 2nd C. AD
Stele of the Osirian Mound, ca. 350 BC
Osiris figure in falcon coffin.

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