4th-century BCE baskets still containing fruit found in sunken Egyptian city

‘Incredible’ wicker baskets, complete with fruit and grape seeds, discovered by marine archaeologist Frank Goddio’s team in the submerged remains of Thonis-Heracleion

Marine archaeologist Frank Goddio works at the site of the sunken remains of Thonis-Heracleion. (Wikimedia Commons)
Marine archaeologist Frank Goddio works at the site of the sunken remains of Thonis-Heracleion. (Wikimedia Commons)

Archaeologists working at a site of submerged ruins off the coast of Egypt discovered wicker baskets filled with fruit dating back to the 4th century BCE, the Guardian reported Monday.

The discovery was made in the city of Thonis-Heracleion, a one-time bustling metropolis that sat on the edge of the Nile River, where it meets with the Mediterranean Sea.

Thonis-Heracleion was for centuries considered Egypt’s largest port in the area until Alexander the Great founded the coastal city of Alexandria in 331 BCE.

The city, submerged following a series of earthquakes and tidal waves, was discovered two decades ago by French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio, in one of the greatest archaeological finds of recent times.

Goddio told the Guardian that the fruit baskets were “incredible,” having been untouched for more than 2,000 years, and still filled with doum, the fruit of an African palm tree, as well as grape seeds.

“Nothing was disturbed,” he said. “It was very striking to see baskets of fruits.”

The marine archaeologist said the baskets and their contents may have survived by virtue of being stored in an underground room.

Last month, archaeologists found rare remains of a military vessel and a Greek funerary complex during underwater excavations at Thonis-Heracleion.

“An Egyptian-French mission… found the debris of a military vessel from the Ptolemaic era and the remains of a Greek funerary complex dating to the fourth century BC,” the Egyptian antiquities ministry said.

Flat-bottomed with large oars, mast and sails, the 25-meter-long (82-foot-long) vessel was often used for navigation within the Nile Delta, according to preliminary studies.

Archaeologists say the ship — which they believe was supposed to dock near Amun Temple in the area — sank following the famed ancient temple’s collapse in an earthquake in the second century BCE.

“Finds of fast ships from this age are extremely rare,” said Goddio.

Underwater archaeologists also found a funerary complex showing the presence of Greek merchants in the area during the late period of ancient Egypt.

The Egyptian antiquities ministry said Greeks had dominated the region at the time and built funerary temples in the vicinity of Amun Temple.

Remnants of these temples were found “in excellent condition” underwater, it added.

The latest findings testify to “the richness of temples in the city which now lies under Mediterranean sea water,” the ministry said.

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