I knew that ‘Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost World’ would be interesting – I’ve never yet been disappointed by a British Museum exhibition. What I hadn’t expected – and was staggered by – was the sheer scale of what is on display or how much I would learn while I was there.
Some context: two lost cities of ancient Egypt, Thonis Heracleion (named after the Greek hero Heracles) and Canopus, submerged under the sea for over one thousand years, have recently been discovered by underwater archaeologists. This exhibition tells their stories – and those of their inhabitants. All manner of objects have been excavated: gold jewellery (some as good as new), statues, temple buildings, mummies, sphinxes…just incredible.
By looking at these items you form an idea of what life would have been like for the people who lived in those two iconic cities, both of which played a key role in their country’s history – Thonis was one of Egypt’s most important commercial centres for trade with the Mediterranean world and Canopus was a major centre for the worship of the Egyptian gods.
What I found awe-inspiring was not just the volume of objects retrieved from the seabed, or the fact that many look as though they were made just yesterday, but also the craftsmanship and skill that must have gone into creating them, long before the advent of machines. We have so much still to learn about that era – and exhibitions like this are gradually transforming our understanding of this great culture and civilisation that continues to shape our thinking even to this day.