Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Heracleion and Canopus back to light

Source: Deutsche Welle

"It's a Bit Like Modern Surgery"

DW-WORLD.DE spoke to French marine archeologist Franck Goddio, who brought lost parts of the legendary port of Alexandria and the ancient cities of Heracleion and Canopus back to light.

"Egypt's Sunken Treasures," an exhibition of artifacts unearthed during Goddio's excavations, went on show in Bonn on Thursday.

DW-WORLD.DE: After thousands of excursions to sunken cities and shipwrecks around the world, your living room must look like an adventurous place.

Franck Goddio: Well, it's not an adventure. I would say it's a job, and we are doing this job very professionally. We plan each mission carefully and train our staff for that, and before starting, there is a lot of paperwork that has to be done.

Before you started to search for sunken treasures, you studied mathematics and worked as a financial consultant. How does that fit with archaeology?

Goddio devoted himself to marine archeology in the 1980sBildunterschrift: Gro├čansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Goddio devoted himself to marine archeology in the 1980s

As a matter of fact, it does help. After 10 years in finance, I decided to take a one-year break. I looked at what at the time has been done in underwater archaeology, and I realized that there was a need for a privately funded independent institute that could work for governments and other institutions.

You opened such an institute for underwater archaeology in Paris in 1985. Were you always sure that it would become a success story?

Maybe I was a little naive at the beginning. When I started to search for the sunken parts of Alexandria in 1984 the geophysical instruments that you need for missions like that didn't exist.

But you did find ancient Alexandria in the end.

But for Alexandria, it took years and years because we had to perform a four-year geophysical survey before we even had a detailed map that showed that there was something under the sediment. It's a bit like modern surgery. You use the scanner, and then afterwards, when you know where to search, you do the operation at the right place.

Are you still thrilled by your work?

It's very hard work because for months and months you only sail along straight lines in the harbor, towing instruments and registering data in order to create an electronic map. When you start to see the map, you get this feeling that there is something down there. And only then does it become thrilling.

It seems that your work has little in common with an Indiana Jones adventure.

Not at all, on the contrary I would say. My job is to prevent adventure.

When you take artifacts from the ancient port of Alexandria, you put them in different colored baskets. Does the color mean something?

The color is in fact no criteria, but you need these baskets in order to desalinate the artifacts. When you raise it from the sea, where the object has been for some 2,000 years, you have to remove the salt. For a small artifact, this can take a few days. For a very big artefact, like the statue of Hapi (editor's note: a more than five-meter or 16-feet high statue), we needed 18 months to remove the salt.

What happens if you don't do that?

The stone will disintegrate. Chemical reactions will make the stone weaker, until it finally disintegrates.

The exhibition in Bonn is showing 500 artifacts, most of them from Alexandria. What kind of feeling should the exhibition evoke in visitors?

We found all the artifacts right next to each other. They were on the same place for thousands of years and supplemented each other, they were literally living together. In the exhibition you can see that they speak to each other.

Who owns the artifacts?

They belong to Egypt of course. All artifacts that you see in the exhibit in Bonn will one day end up in a museum which will be built for them -- in Alexandria.

"Egypt's Sunken Treasures" runs until Jan. 27, 2008 at the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn.
Richard Fuchs interviewed Franck Goddio (ncy)

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