‘Egypt’s Sunken Cities’ at Mia showcases antiquities from one of history’s most significant underwater archaeological finds

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This fall, the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) will show an exhibition of antiquities from one of the greatest finds in the history of underwater archaeology. “Egypt’s Sunken Cities,” presented by U.S. Bank, will feature colossal, 16-foot-tall sculptures and precious artifacts from the long-lost cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus. The exhibition will focus on the discoveries made during more than 20 years of underwater excavation by French archaeologist Franck Goddio and the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology.

The exhibition opens November 4, 2018, and is on view for an extended six-month run through April 14, 2019. It was recently shown at the Museum Rietberg in Zurich, the British Museum in London, the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, and the Saint Louis Art Museum.

“Mia is thrilled to bring this exciting exhibition to the Twin Cities,” said Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers, curator of African art and head of Mia’s Department of Arts of Africa and the Americas. “These finds have deep scholarly significance, giving us a greater understanding of the intermingling of Egyptian and Greek politics, religion, and aesthetics, and groundbreaking insights on ancient secret rituals. Discovered and removed from the depths of the Mediterranean Sea, these objects transport the viewer to another world and time with their grandeur, scale, sheer beauty, and the rich history they represent.”

The ancient city of Thonis-Heracleion—a major port and Egypt’s premier center for trade with the Greek world—and neighboring community Canopus once stood on Egypt’s north coast. But by 800 C.E., soil liquefaction, natural disasters, and the rising tides of the Mediterranean Sea caused them to submerge.

The ruins remained underwater for more than 1,000 years, until 2000, when Goddio—a pioneer of modern maritime archaeology, director of excavations, and founder of the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology—discovered them while exploring Aboukir Bay near the city of Alexandria. Along with a team of archaeologists, Egyptologists, historians, geologists, geophysicists, and computer engineers, Goddio uncovered monumental statues, religious images carved in stone, exquisite jewelry, and delicate ceramics.

“Archaeology is the combination of science and precision—the process and methodology of excavation—with ambiguity and imagination,” said Kaywin Feldman, Nivin and Duncan MacMillan Director and President of Mia. “Indeed, ‘Egypt’s Sunken Cities’ offers us both a scientific exploration of a watery underworld excavation of a civilization destroyed long ago, while also revealing a mysterious and wondrous world filled with marvels.”

Goddio’s research also revealed this area as a significant site of religious pilgrimage. The excavation helped scholars understand the Mysteries of Osiris, an ancient ritual commemorating one of Egypt’s most important myths: the murder and resurrection of Osiris, god of the afterlife. The annual ceremony unfolded over 20 days. It involved the making of Osiris effigies crafted from highly symbolic ingredients, such as soil from the Nile River, and ended in a water procession along the canals between Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus. The Mysteries of Osiris were believed essential to ensure the balance of the cosmos, to safeguard the dynastic continuity of the pharaohs, and to guarantee the annual floodwaters that regenerated Egyptian daily life.

More than 250 works of art—including three monumental sculptures, each weighing more than 8,000 lbs.—discovered by Goddio’s team will be shown in “Egypt’s Sunken Cities.” In addition, complementary artifacts from museums in Cairo and Alexandria will be on view.

Exhibition tickets go on sale August 20.

Catalogue and Programming

“Egypt’s Sunken Cities” is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by Flammarion. The 248-page volume is written by Franck Goddio and David Fabre, an archaeologist who has worked with the Institut Européen d’Archéologie Sous-Ma­rine for more than 10 years. It is available for $30 from The Store at Mia.

Related events:
Mia will host an opening event for museum patrons and members on October 27. My Mia members also enjoy free exhibition admission during a members-only preview week, October 28–November 3.

Franck Goddio will give several lectures at Mia on October 28 and November 1, recounting his archaeological excavations of the ancient sites and examining how they helped solve a 2,000-year enigma and brought new information to light. Book-signing opportunities will be held after each talk. Available beginning October 3, tickets are free for My Mia members.

Supplemental programming includes a Third Thursday event on November 15 and Family Day events on November 11 and January 13, highlighting the exhibition’s themes. Public tours will be available daily at noon.

The Store at Mia will organize an “Egypt’s Sunken Cities” satellite store featuring exhibition-related items in the museum’s lobby.

For more information on programming, visit new.artsmia.org/egypts-sunken-cities.


The presenting sponsor of the exhibition in Minneapolis is U.S. Bank, with lead support from the Nivin and Duncan MacMillan Foundation, Mary Ruth Weisel, John and Nancy Lindahl, Campbell Foundation/Carmen and Jim Campbell, Thomson Reuters, The Crosby Family Fund for Exhibitions, Best Buy Co., Inc., and Fredrikson & Byron, P.A. Major sponsors are Delta Air Lines and the Mary Ingebrand-Pohlad Charitable Foundation. The Star Tribune is the media partner.

About Franck Goddio

Wanderlust and a passion for the sea runs in Franck Goddio’s veins. He is the grandson of Éric de Bisschop, a navigator and writer who invented the modern catamaran while studying ancient navigational routes in the South Pacific. Goddio dedicated himself to underwater archaeology in the early 1980s and founded the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology, of which he currently serves as president. He is a visiting professor of Oxford University and the co-founder of The Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology.

Goddio initiated several shipwreck excavations, including of seven junks dating from the 11th to 16th centuries, two Spanish galleons, and two trading vessels of the British East India Company. Goddio’s most significant project began in 1992, when his team started its investigation of a portion of Egypt’s Bay of Alexandria, where he discovered, mapped, and started excavation of the ancient Great Port of Alexandria. In 1996 he launched a research mission in Aboukir Bay off the coast of Alexandria, and in 2000 discovered the submerged ancient city of Thonis-Heracleion and parts of the city of Canopus. Goddio’s excavations, conservation, and scientific studies have been supported by the Hilti Foundation for more than 20 years.