This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the British Museums Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds exhibition. Featuring the finds from two cities, Canopus and Thonis-Hercaleion, that long ago vanished beneath the waves of the Mediterranean, it promised a wealth of new and beautiful artifacts and revelations.
And it came through on that promise. With generous use of excavation footage to inform and to set the tone throughout the exhibition, the entire experience maintained a mysterious, underwater sort of feeling that made the stunning items exhibited all the more inspiring.
It’s easy to pick out a few personal favourites.
An absolutely stunning wooden statue of the Graeco-Egyptian God Serapis, preserved so well that at first I didn’t realise that it even was wood, still bore traces of colour. I felt like it needed a sign, huge and flashing: ‘extraordinary’. In a room full of such beautiful objects, it was almost too easy to pass it by without realising just how rare and how wonderful it was.
The exhibition is awash with glorious statuary – including a delicately lifelike sculpture of Arsinoe II, a Ptolemaic Greek Princess (left). Pieces like this feel worth the admission price alone.
The exhibition is set up to make the most of these beautiful objects. The use of space is at times breathtaking – rounding the first corner to come face to face with two dramatically large statues of a Ptolemaic King and Queen at the far end of the room, softly backlit in blue, required a moment to stop and stare.
A section on Osiris feels a little incongruous, wedged in between the finds from the Greek city and the Roman, but is nonetheless fascinating, and home to its own collection of incredibly well-preserved finds, including a wide range of bronze vessels, implements, and sculpture.
The exhibition is family friendly, with plenty to keep the kids amused – from the regular screens with looped footage of the underwater excavation, showing recognisable finds from the exhibition in their eerie find context, to the frequent ‘diver’ stations with short activities – listen, look, touch.
An overall stunning exhibition well-worth visiting, Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds finishes on 27th November. If you haven’t yet been, then now’s your chance – tickets are available from the British Museum website.
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