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Sphinx of Cleopatra's father emerges from waves

October 29, 1998
Web posted at: 12:38 a.m. EST (0538 GMT)

In this story:

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (Reuters) -- A granite sphinx with the head of Cleopatra's father emerged on Wednesday from the choppy waters of Alexandria harbor after 1,600 years under water.

Divers led by French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio winched the superbly-preserved sphinx, bolted into a steel frame, onto the deck of research vessel Princess Dudu.

They also brought up a stunning statue of the Great Priest of Isis holding an urn, thought to have been part of a sanctuary of Isis on Antirhodos island, the focus of this year's underwater excavations in Alexandria bay.

'Beautifully preserved and very rare'

"This is one of the most beautifully preserved statues of its kind and very rare," Goddio told reporters, referring to the 250 kg (550 pound) priestly statue from the first century AD.

Goddio, president of the Paris-based European Institute of Underwater Archaeology, was presenting the results of a third year of exploration of the sunken royal quarter of the ancient city founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC.

The city, where the lives of Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony intertwined, disappeared beneath the sea more than 1,600 years ago after a series of earthquakes and flood waves.

Goddio's 35-member team used global satellite positioning devices to map out the royal quarter, lying five meters (17 feet) under water, not far from the busy modern city seafront.

Shipwreck discovered in royal harbor

During this year's excavations of the submerged island and royal port of Antirhodos, where Cleopatra had a palace, the team found a well-preserved shipwreck 30 meters (100 feet) long.

A statement by the French institute said radio-carbon dating on wood samples put the age of the ship at between 90 BC and 130 AD. Artifacts found on it include rigging, ceramics, remains of food, glass shards and jewelry.

"The wreck is an important find for the explorers, not least because of its state of preservation, but also because of its location in the private (royal) harbor," it said. "Evidence from a hole in the ship's hull suggests that it could have sunk after being rammed by another boat."

Zsolt Kiss, an art and archaeology expert at the Polish Academy of Science, told a news conference he is confident the head of the sphinx represented Ptolemy XII, Cleopatra's father.

"Isn't it wonderful to find the father of Cleopatra on the island of Antirhodos, where Cleopatra's palace stood?" he said.

Cleopatra, born in 69 BC, was 17 when her father died. She was the last of the pharaohs and when she took her own life in 30 BC, Egypt came under direct Roman imperial rule.

The sphinx and statue plucked from the seabed on Wednesday were to be returned there immediately, but may eventually be housed in the Alexandria Museum. Egyptian officials said most of the French team's finds would be left in place.

Gaballa Ali Gaballah, secretary general of Egypt's state Supreme Council for Antiquities, said he hopes the whole site can be turned into an underwater museum, possibly involving installation of glass-walled viewing tunnels.

He said the council has endorsed the idea, but has yet to convince the government it is feasible and find the funds.

"First we have to clean up the water," he said, adding that local authorities have promised to stop all sewage dumping into the harbor's murky depths by the end of the year.

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