Egypt’s Sunken Cities Surface at Minneapolis Institute of Art

Egypt’s Sunken Cities Surface at Minneapolis Institute of Art

If you thought archaeology had lost its magic in this age of satellite and drone photography, Mostaf Waziry would like to disabuse you of that notion. The head of Egypt’s Supreme Council for Antiquities (now that’s a job title) regaled press at a Thursday morning preview for Egypt’s Sunken Cities at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Only 40% of Egypt’s ancient history has been uncovered! New discoveries were made just this week! They can’t build museums fast enough!

French archaeologist Franck Goddio was considerably lower-key, but there was no need to trumpet his achievements: he’s the guy who discovered the legendary lost cities of Canopus and Thonis-Heracleion (the latter thought to be two separate cities until Goddio demonstrated they’re one and the same), recovering artifacts submerged for millennia beneath the Mediterranean Sea.

The bulk of that work has been done in the 21st century, lending a scintillating sense of revelation to the exhibit, which opens to the public on Nov. 4. Artifact labels are marked with waves to indicate which pieces were recovered by Goddio’s underwater team; other pieces are included to provide context. In a series of galleries, most painted aqua green to set a properly marine mood, visitors are invited to contemplate these long-lost treasures of one of the world’s great civilizations.

Three colossal statues also mark the exhibit’s arrival, standing in the museum’s lobby and in a rotunda near the show’s entrance. A pharaoh, a queen, a god: the three invite contemplation of the famed mythological order that gave shape to the ancient Egyptians’ lives. Their visit to Minneapolis (after previous stops in Zurich, London, Paris, and St. Louis) is remarkable testament to Mia’s resources and tenacity.

The exhibit itself isn’t overfull: the artifacts, ranging from large stone pieces to tiny tools, are positioned by curatorial staff to allow proper regard of their mysteries. As Goddio pointed out on Thursday, some elements of the pieces on display wouldn’t have been seen by Egyptians ranking lower than high priests, which makes the $20 ticket price seem like a steal.

Artifacts on display include an obelisk, tablets, and sarcophagi — but the most haunting pieces are the statues. A queen dressed as Isis stares out with hollowed eyes, her arms broken away just above the wrists. The story of her journey is incredible; listening devices and a beautiful catalog help to tell it.

These days, it often seems like the world is about to end…and for that granodiorite queen, it essentially did. Yet, she’s still here.

Jay Gabler