Study Says Nile Flood, Not Earthquakes, Sank Lost Egyptian Cities
A new study says that Nile flooding, not earthquakes, sank two ancient cities that have been recently discovered just off Egypt's Mediterranean coast.
The cities of Canopus and Herakleion were found in about eight meters of water in Abu Qir Bay, east of Alexandria, in a discovery announced last year. They had thrived during Greek and Byzantine times, and were later the setting of conflicts between Christianity and pagan religions.
Then during the 8th century AD, they suddenly disappeared.
In Thursday's issue of the journal Nature, geologist Jean-Daniel Stanley of the Smithsonian Institution and two colleagues from the European Institute of Nautical Archaeology in Paris argue that flooding did the cities in and not earthquakes, said the Associated Press.
When the cities were first discovered, archeologists had assumed that an earthquake sent them to their watery end. Stanford University geologist Amos Nur, who has also studied the site, still prefers that theory, said the agency.
“We have identified three earthquakes that probably devastated the city in the 8th century,” Nur said.
But Stanley insists that flooding is a better explanation, even though it is an earthquake-prone area.
Herakleion and Canopus were built on extremely marshy ground at the mouth of the Nile Delta.
When a particularly severe Nile flood happened in 741 or 742 - about the time that the cities are thought to have slipped beneath the waves - they were primed for destruction, Stanley said.
He theorizes that the floodwaters compressed the soft ground beneath the cities, causing underground mud flows and even squirting some up through cracks. Buildings would have toppled.
If the cities' foundations became unstable enough, they could have slid wholesale into the sea.
“Phenomena like this are known. It's just that usually there aren't cities built on the edges of deltas,” Stanley said.
Even so, Nur favors shaking as the destructive force. Earthquakes are known to liquefy saturated soil. So if a quake shook the mud beneath Canopus and Herakleion, they easily could have slid into the sea, he said.
The discovery of the two cities was hailed by archaeologists as among the most important finds of the past two decades in the relatively new field of sub-aqua exploration of ancient sites, a previous issue by the Times Online said.
"These are intact. Frozen in time and totally untouched. In Canopus we have found monumental statues and other structures. Around them are enormous amounts of gold coins and of ceramics," said M Goddio, who pioneered electronic techniques for scanning the seabed for anomalies that revealed the cities buried beneath 5ft of sand and silt.
The life of the cities appears to have been brought to an end by an earthquake. The shaking of the earth caused by a fault that runs northwest from the Red Sea into the Mediterranean may have been partly responsible for the flooding of the cities – Albawaba.com
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