New “treasures and secrets” have been revealed at the site of a sunken temple off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM) announced in a news release Tuesday.
An underwater archaeological team, led by French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio, has made further discoveries at the site of a temple to god Amun in the ancient port city of Thonis-Heracleion in the Bay of Aboukir, the institute said.
The team investigated the city’s south canal, where huge blocks of stone from the ancient temple collapsed “during a cataclysmic event dated to the mid-second century BC,” the institute said.
The temple to god Amun was where pharaohs came “to receive the titles of their power as universal kings from the supreme god of the ancient Egyptian pantheon,” it said.
“Precious objects belonging to the temple treasury have been unearthed, such as silver ritual instruments, gold jewelry and fragile alabaster containers for perfumes or unguents,” IEASM said. “They bear witness to the wealth of this sanctuary and the piety of the former inhabitants of the port city.”
The archaeological excavations, conducted jointly by Goddio’s team and the Department of Underwater Archaeology of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of Egypt, revealed underground structures “supported by very well-preserved wooden posts and beams dating from the 5th century BC,” the institute said.
“It is extremely moving to discover such delicate objects, which survived intact despite the violence and magnitude of the cataclysm,” said Goddio, who is president of IEASM and director of excavations.
The discoveries were made possible thanks to the development and use of new geophysical prospecting technologies that can detect cavities and objects “buried under layers of clay several meters thick,” the institute said.
East of the Amun temple, a Greek sanctuary devoted to Aphrodite was discovered containing bronze and ceramic objects.
“This illustrates that Greeks who were allowed to trade and settle in the city during the time of the Pharaohs of the Saïte dynasty (664 – 525 BC) had their sanctuaries to their own gods,” the institute said.
The discoveries of Greek weapons also reveal the presence of Greek mercenaries in the area, IEASM said. “They were defending the access to the Kingdom at the mouth of the Canopic Branch of the Nile. This branch was the largest and the best navigable one in antiquity.”
The city was discovered by the IEASM in 2000.
The scent of the ancient Egyptian afterlife has been recreated – here’s what it smelled like
To be human is to wonder what happens after we die. Is there an afterlife? If so, what does it look like? But a question you may not have asked yourself is: what does the afterlife smell like? To ancient Egyptians, however, there were very specific answers, and new research has shed light on this aspect of their burial practices.
Analysis of the oils and resins in limestone jars that held the organs of Senetnay, a noblewoman of the 18th Dynasty who lived around 1450BC, has revealed a carefully formulated mix of ingredients.
Researchers have presented this as “the scent of the afterlife” in a scientific report. The smell will be revealed in an interactive exhibition at Moesgaard Museum in Denmark titled Ancient Egypt – Obsessed with Life, opening on October 13 2023.
A high-status scent
Amenhotep II inherited one of the largest empires ever known from his father, Thutmose III. Senetnay was fortunate to live at a time of great prosperity for Egypt and to be part of the king’s entourage. Her canopic jars (containers that preserved the viscera of the dead for the afterlife) were recovered from tomb KV42 by Howard Carter in 1900.
The resin is not typical of an ancient Egyptian burial – even a high status one – as it was extremely expensive, with ingredients from distant lands.
An image of Amenhotep II from his burial in the Valley of the Kings. Wiki Commons, CC BY-SA
Such balms, resins and oils used in mummification provided pleasant aromas and practical functions in the preservation process, but also had spiritual significance.
This specific recipe seems to have been mixed specifically for Senetnay as it is different to other samples. She may have had some say in what was used – perhaps even her favourite scent.
The scent of the afterlife
Mummified human remains tend to smell relatively benign. The infusion of scented oils and resins has a lasting effect, especially in an undisturbed burial where the scent has been contained.
The salt and palm wine used in the preparation of the body itself also helped to preserve the properties of the other ingredients.
The ingredients are a snapshot of Egypt’s empire and reach – several came from a considerable distance. Larch tree resin is likely to have been obtained from the northern Mediterranean. South-east Asia (perhaps more specifically India) is present in what is possibly dammar tree resin.
The researchers have still to establish conclusively if dammar was used – if so, this is an indication of the extent of the ancient Egyptian trade route, stretching to the tropical forests of south-east Asia.
Oils and bitumen from cypress, cedar or juniper add layers of scent, preservative and antibacterial properties. Beeswax is both antibacterial and acts as a binder and sealant. Animal fat adds consistency and carries oils well, and the mixture is heightened with plant and flower oils such as sesame or olive.
One ancient Egyptian word for a bouquet or garland was a homonym for life – ankh. A poignant and beautiful 12th Dynasty composition known, among other titles, as The Dialogue of a Man with his Ba (soul) says: “Death is before me today, like the scent of myrrh, like the scent of flowers.”