Friday, 2 July 2010

Lost Sarcophagus: Search Update

Visitors may be interested in an update on proposals to search for and recover the sarcophagus of the pharaoh Menkaure which vanished when the ship transporting it to the British Museum sank in a storm in the autumn of 1838, probably off the coast of Spain near the port of Cartagena (see The Lost Sarcophagus, Ancient Egypt magazine December 2008/January 2009).

The summer of 2008 saw a rash of press speculation that the Egyptian Supreme Council for Antiquities was trying to raise funds to search for the sarcophagus. The names of undersea explorer Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreck of the Titanic, and French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio, had been tentatively linked to the project.

However, such a search has already been carried out. In 2007 and 2008, the US-based oceanographic exploration, education and archaeological organisation The Aurora Trust, in association with the Museo Nacional de Arqueologia Maritima y Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Arqueologicas Submarinas (National Centre for Underwater Archaeology of Spain and the National Museum for Underwater Archaeology), carried out large scale archaeological surveys of the seabed off Cartagena harbour.

Although not specifically intended as a search for the sarcophagus, the surveys aimed to find and map what the Trust describes as “targets and anomalies” and create “an archive of cultural assets present on the seafloor.”

Sadly, the Aurora Trust’s Director of Archaeology, Timmy Gambin, confirms the surveys have failed to find any evidence of the Beatrice, although he adds that it was “possibly outside our survey area”.

However, the 2,200-year-old wreck of a Roman vessel was discovered outside the harbour, complete with thousands of amphora of wine, still carefully packed in the hold of the ship (see photograph).

The Aurora Trust, a not-for-profit oceanographic exploration, education and archaeological organisation, has its logistics base in Malta. The Trust has undertaken a number of projects throughout the Mediterranean over the last five years, working with government agencies, academic institutions and fellow non-profit organisations.

For the Trust, Saab Seaeye's highly successful Falcon ROV (remotely operated vehicle) has proved a vital tool in their ocean exploration work.

Pictures: Couresty of Saab Seaeye Ltd

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