Underwater Archaeology In Egypt

Reported by Naglaa El Zahlawi

         The Department for underwater Archaeology of the Supreme Council of Antiquities DUA/SCA was founded in 1996 as underwater excavations near Qayet bey fort led to the discovery of the Ancient Eastern Harbour of Alexandria and part of the Royal Quarters.

         Underwater discoveries in Egypt date back to 1910 when the French engineer Gaston Jondet noticed during the enlargement of the western port, what might have been the ancient harbour structure. In 1933, 30kms far from Qayet bey fort east of Alexandria, a British aircraft pilot noticed ancient vestiges shaped as a horseshoe deep in the water as he was overflying over Aboukir. This encouraged Prince Omar Tousson who recruited the services of a specialist, a deep-sea diver.

 A marble head was taken out of water the 5th May  1933 and it was Alexander's head that was lying 450m from the coast east Ramleh fort. Omar Tousson  went on with his discoveries, which revealed a Temple  240m from the coast with dozen columns. Also discovered within the bay, Aboukir bay, seven masonry jetties, length varying from 100 to 250ms, width from 4 to 6 ms and one meter height. Marble and granite columns and pedestals were found near Alexander's head.

In 1960, Kamal Aboul Saadat, the famous diver undertook the responsibility of exploring Aboukir bay and the eastern harbor of Alexandria. He found in 1961 stone ruins lying under Qayet bey fort, in ElSilsileh and east the ancient Cape Lochias. In 1962, the colossal statue of Isis Pharia was lifted from the sea together with a huge male statue in granite referred to the Hellenistic era. This was a joined effort between Kamal Aboul Saadat and the Egyptian Navy.

Aboul Saadat delivered maps to the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria where he specified three sites. The pharos at the foot of Qayet bey fort, Antirrohdus island a small port and several jetties in the Eastern Harbour, ancient constructions covered with sand granite columns anthropoid sarcophagi and coins at Silsileh and Shatby. He also discovered a series of ceramics. Aboul Saadat located on his second map in Aboukir bay wrecks from Napoleon's fleet and the two towns Omar Tousson had mentioned before Menouthis and Herakleion. From 1970 to 1980, his work went on and led to the existence of a jetty 250 ms long and few stone anchors in Mamoura east Alexandria but around Nelson's island north Aboukir he located few jetties 300ms long. Kamal Aboul Saadat cooperated as an expert guide with many foreign missions working over the underwater sites of Alexandria exploring and discovering the ancient heritage lying there. He mainly joined his efforts to those of Honor Frost, leader of one of UNESCO missions acting in Qayet bey site in 1968. Kamal Aboul Saadat is to be considered as pioneer in underwater excavations in Egypt that had started with Omar Tousson's efforts.

In 1983, under the supervision of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, actually SCA, Jacques Dumas with the joined efforts of both the French and Egyptian Navy, discovered the famous ship L'Orient that was the flagship of Napoleon's fleet. L'Orient was lying 8kms far from Aboukir coast at a depth of 11ms. Le Guerrier, L'Artemise and La Serieuse were also discovered by the joined efforts of the same team during 1983/1984 in Aboukir Bay, but unfortunately Jaques Dumas papers were lost after his death in Morocco in 1985. Many Egyptians had contributed with that work namely Mr. Abdallah El Attar, actually head of the Islamic and Coptic Department. These discoveries revealed many objects especially after the location of the Patriote near Agamy, west of Alexandria at the extremity of El Fara, a small reef.

Canons, muskets, canon balls, elements from the crew's uniforms, every day objects, gold silver and bronze coins, printing press items…etc

Underwater Archaeology in Egypt had witnessed a great activity during the last seven years and in particular after the foundation of the so called department DUA/SCA, equipped with 29 Archaeological divers very well trained and efficient.  Efforts led to very important discoveries that enriched the related scientific concepts linked with the sites.

Combined efforts of SCA divers and Le Centre d'Etudes Alexandrines in Qayet bey led to the discovery of 2000 objects mainly statues, sphinxes and columns of different shapes together with few crowns and pedestals and parts of obelisks. The site, identified as Graeco-Roman, includes artifacts dating back to the pharaonic periods.

The same team discovered, after surveying the  area, shipwrecks dating from the 3d century BC to the  7th AD, at the entrance of the ancient harbour of  Alexandria; amphorae were found, daily life utensils,  metal and stone anchors.

DUA/SCA, in cooperation with L'Institut Europeen d'Archčologie sous-marine IEASM led a topographical survey; excavations revealed important results after five years of constant work. A great project is overviewed for these discoveries as many important details were traced under the water namely reefs, Anthirhodus island and the ancient shore together with remains of buildings, the Timonium, columns, obelisks, ceramics and statues.

Accurate survey of the whole coast and underwater excavations are practiced these last few years in order to discover more evidence to help retracing historical events. Interesting finds are too numerous to be listed but work is on in the eastern and western coast of Alexandria, in Maemoura, Aboukir and the northwestern coast.

According to Ibrahim Darwish, underwater archaeology director, underwater activities expanded from individual efforts displayed by Prince Omar Toussoun and Aboul Saadat to systematic, organized and scientific activities, not to neglect the fact that Alexandria is a promising site rich in archaeological evidence and remains. Another factor to be underlined is the universal interest granted to this activity which enriches researches especially that discoveries are studied in the Alexandria Conservation Laboratory for Submerged Antiquities.

 · Reference Ibrahim Darwish lecture

 · Ibrahim Darwish, underwater Archaeology Director.