Skip to main content

Atlantis really comes to life: Archaeologists discover new treasure in a mysterious underwater city off the coast of Egypt dating back at least 1,000 years


Archaeologists have uncovered new treasures from Heracleion, the ‘lost’ Egyptian city that sunk into the Mediterranean Sea over 1,000 years ago.

The ‘precious’ new finds, shared by French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio, include gold jewellery, silver dishes and an odd pouring device shaped like a duck.

There’s also a Djed – a pillar-like symbol from Egyptian hieroglyphs made of the blue stone lapis lazuli – and an eerie ceramic hand that was found poking out of the sediment.

For centuries, Heracleion was Egypt’s largest port on the Mediterranean before the foundation of Alexandria by Alexander the Great in 331 BC.

Heracleion has been described as Egypt’s version of Atlantis, although, unlike Heracleion, many doubt that the mythical island ever existed.

Gold objects, jewellery and a Djed pilar (a symbol of stability and made of the blue stone lapis lazuli) were retrieved at the remains of Heracleion. They likely date to 5th century BC

A hand is emerging from the sediment during an archaeological excavation at Heracleion. It dates from the 5th century BC-early 4th century BC, probably from Cyprus

What is Heracleion?

Heracleion is a lost ancient Egyptian port city that was founded probably around the 8th century BC.

It underwent diverse natural catastrophes before it sunk entirely into the depths of the Mediterranean in the 8th century AD.

Remains are now deep under the Mediterranean, around two miles off the Egyptian coast near the ancient city of Alexandria.

Heracleion was rediscovered by a team led by French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio in 2000.

Before Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 331, Heracleion was the largest port city in Egypt.

Goddio said Heracleion ‘knew glorious times as the obligatory port of entry to Egypt for all ships coming from the Greek world’.

‘It had also a religious importance because of the temple of Amun, which played an important role in rites associated with dynasty continuity.’

Mr Goddio, who originally rediscovered Heracleion back in 2000, described the new finds on his website as ‘precious’ and ‘moving’.

‘They bear witness to the wealth of this sanctuary and the piety of the former inhabitants of the port city,’ he said.

According to Mr Goddio, Heracleion was founded around the 8th century BC and became the obligatory port of entry to Egypt for all ships coming from the Greek world.

However, Heracleion underwent ‘diverse natural catastrophes’ – likely earthquakes and tsunamis – before it sunk entirely into the depths of the Mediterranean, likely in the 8th century AD.

The remains of the port city are now located under the sea, around four miles (7 km) from the present coast of Egypt.

The recent excavation, conducted in July this year, covered the lost city’s south canal, where there’s the remains of a great temple dedicated to the Amun, Egyptian god of the air.

Huge blocks of stone from the temple collapsed during a ‘cataclysmic event’ dated to the mid-second century BC, Goddio said – about 1,000 years before the entire city was lost.

Among the findings at the temple’s location were silver ritual instruments, gold jewellery and fragile alabaster containers, likely for perfumes.

Two ritual dishes intended for ‘libations for the gods’ were made from silver, considered extremely precious in ancient Egypt.

Listen to the ‘scariest sound in the world’ – the Aztec Death Whistle

27.3k viewing now

A beautiful Djed, meanwhile, was made of the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli, long prized for its intense blue colour.

‘It is extremely moving to discover such delicate objects, which survived intact despite the violence and magnitude of the cataclysm,’ Mr Goddio said.

Below the area of the temple, they also found underground structures supported by well-preserved wooden posts and beams, dating from the 5th century BC.

The city of Heracleion was one of the most important trade centers in the Mediterranean area. Before Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 331, Heracleion was the largest port city in Egypt

Two silver ritual dishes for libations for the gods from the temple treasure. Silver was considered extremely precious in ancient Egypt. An alabaster container for unguents and perfumes was found amongst them

After excavation, an archaeological diver gazes at the huge blocks of the Amun temple, which fell in the mid-second century BC in the south canal of Heracleion. They were discovered under around 10 feet (3 metres) of hard clay

Unravelling the mystery of Atlantis – READ MORE

The story about the world of Atlantis was first told 2,300 years ago by the Greek philosopher Plato

East of the Amun temple they also discovered a Greek sanctuary devoted to Aphrodite, ancient Greek goddess of sexual love and beauty.

The sanctuary yielded imported bronze and ceramic objects, including an usual object shaped like a duck, which was surrounded by ceramic pots and shields.

The delicate pourer, though to date from the 4th century BC, could have been used for pouring wine, potentially suggesting some form of Greek trade.

‘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,’ Mr Goddio added.

‘The presence of Greek mercenaries is also seen by numerous finds of Greek weapons.’

Although the French explorer found Heracleion more than 20 years ago, new geophysical prospecting technologies has made it possible to detect cavities and objects buried under layers of clay several metres thick, allowing them to detect more objects.

A delicate bronze duck-shaped pourer is discovered amongst ceramics of the 4th century BC on the site of a newly discovered Greek sanctuary to Aphrodite in ThonisHeracleion.

Under the floor level of the Amun temple, very well-preserved under-ground wooden structures were discovered. 5th century BC

Previous findings from Heracleion have already been displayed at the British Museum in London, such as statues of pharoahs and deities.

While there’s little doubt that Heracleion existed, the same can’t be said about Atlantis, to which it is compared.

The alleged ancient city is said to have been destroyed and submerged under the Atlantic Ocean, but it’s generally believed to have been made up by Greek philosopher Plato.

Earlier this year, another research team revealed they’d found Germany’s equivalent of Atlantis – the town of Rungholt, which was sunk by a storm in 1362.