Archaeovideo: Digging in the Nile – Underwater Archaeology in Egypt

Dr Zahi Hawass at the Nile by Aswan, talking about discoveries made in the river. Click to skip to the video.Ever wondered what ancient histories might be waiting to be discovered underwater, or dreamed about diving in the Nile and looking for treasures? Well, check out this new video from Heritage Key, featuring Dr. Hawass and teams of Egyptian divers excavating underwater relics near Aswan, Egypt. Experience almost first-hand that feeling of adventure that surrounds Zahi Hawass and his team as they search in the greenish basin of the Nile for precious items.

The success of Mediterranean underwater archaeology has led divers and Egyptologists to re-consider the the Nile as an attractive archaeological site. Already, the river has yielded some remarkable treasures, and unlike many of the country’s ancient artefacts, any found here will be staying in Egypt.

In this video we can see some of the artifacts found by professional divers working for the Supreme Council of Antiquities near Aswan; from a grinding stone to Coptic churches’ niches. Dr. Hawass stresses that this area would have been a market area in the past. The Nile was the ‘highway’ of Egypt and all commercial products as well as construction materials were transported up and down the river frequently. In fact, the river was so jam-packed with trade that any distraction, accident or dispute would result in materials and objects getting lost overboard seemingly forever – or at least until now.

Aswan was the source of sandstone for many of Egypt’s ancient monuments and was famous for its quarries. The ‘Unfinished Obelisk’ today sits at the site of an Obelisk production area, and Dr. Hawass dreams of finding a ‘major obelisk’, as he says in the video. But not only obelisks were made here. Sandstone was also used to make grinding stones, the ones used in bakeries to make the daily bread, one of the staple foods ancient Egyptians could not live without.

Religious objects made of stone are also being found at the bottom of the Nile; niches that were intended to be places in Coptic altars, in churches along Egypt, homes to the first Christian settlements, are also being ‘dug up’. Even big ceramic flasks or bottles resembling Roman amphorae are found. These prove that international commerce between Egypt and the surrounding countries once thrived, including, Dr. Hawass believes, trade with Turkey. He intends to pursue this quest further up the Nile where it runs north to meet the Mediterranean Sea in the Nile Delta.

But Dr Hawass is not the first to venture beneath the Nile. Underwater archaeology in Egypt began maybe in 1910, with a French engineer, Gaston Jondet. During the enlargement of Alexandria’s western port, Jondet noticed ancient harbour structures underneath. And again in 1933, at Abu Kir, some 30 km from Qaitbay, to the east of Alexandria, a British aircraft pilot noticed some vestiges within the water again.

In 1961, Kamal Abou el-Saadat, an Egyptian diver, noticed stone ruins at Silsileh, east of the ancient Cape Lochias, which turned out to be a seven metre statue of Isis Pharia, made from Aswan granite. In 1983 the French ships from Napoleon‘s fleet were also discovered. Along with the ships, many objects were recovered, including both weapons and personal objects.

But besides what was done at the time of the building of Aswan Dam (1900 and 1952), and the rescue of monuments, nothing in particular has characterized archaeology in Egypt in submarine terms that is important enough to be mentioned.

Until now.

In early 2008 a team from the Supreme Council of Antiquities – Department of Underwater Archaeology (SCA-DUA) conducted a survey of an area below the Aswan Dam near Elephantine Island using side-scan sonar.

An underwater survey was done and a number of items associated with a temple dedicated to the Egyptian Fertility God Khnum were found (previously located at the Elephantine Island), such as a stone doorway to the temple weighing many tons, from which a 1-ton section was brought to the surface and also the remains of an ancient Christian church.

The importance of submarine and sub-river findings in Egypt is unprecedented as now, with modern techniques, archaeologists in multidisciplinary teams are able to uncover, literally from sand, river basins and the sea bottom, lost treasures of not yet calculated historical interest.

A new branch of Egyptology might be in gestation – underwater Egyptology, with new disciplines to be learned in classes for future researchers, such as marine biology, geology and shipbuilding. The rest of us will wait with bated breath on shore, eager to see what treasures the Nile will reveal.

Video: Underwater Archaeology – Dr Zahi Hawass Excavates the Nile at Aswan

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See more great video interviews, such as Zahi Hawass talking about the search for KV64 and Dr Mark Lehner discussing the lives of pyramid builders in ancient Egypt, here on Heritage Key. Or visit our new video page to see what else we’ve discovered.