This article is about the discovery of a sunken city off the coast of Egypt, but it could easily become a lesson in fact-checking on the Internet all because of a controversial YouTube video title: “Arabs floods [sic] Ancient African city.” The video link contains a news report about the discovery of Heracleion – the Greek name given to the Ancient Egyptian city of Thonis. Thonis-Heracleion, as it is known to researchers, was a fabulous port city on the Mediterranean Sea. It was founded in the eighth century BCE and thrived between the sixth and second centuries BCE, according to research published on Huffington Post.
Before its rediscovery in modern times, Thonis-Heracleion was immortalized by a handful of ancient scribes, including the Greek historian Herodotus. He wrote of its temples to Osiris, network of canals and a visit Helen and Paris of Troy paid to the city before their affair triggered the Trojan War. The city’s Greek name is derived from a temple created there to pay tribute to Herakles (Herakles) first visit to Egypt. Herakles was known to the Egyptians as Khonsu, the son of Amun.
(These legends underscore the work of scholars such as George G. M. James, who have insisted that Greeks and other Europeans frequented Ancient Africa as students and visitors, not as rulers, and that several popular Greek and Roman legends originated within Ancient Africa before Europeans renamed people and places to suit their own languages, as was done with Herakles and Heracleion.)
More than 1200 years later, a team of archaeologists from the European Institute of Marine Archaeology found Thonis-Heracleion at the bottom of the sea. According to one Oxford University professor, the sandy sea floor acted as a perfect preservative from the eighth century when it sank until the year 2000, when it was located.
Franck Goddis, a Frenchman born in Morocco, led the expedition and lists some of the treasures on his website: “colossal statues, inscriptions and architectural elements, jewellery and coins, ritual objects and ceramics – a civilization frozen in time.”
Since its rediscovery, the treasures of Thonis-Heracleion have been displayed in a Paris exhibit, a documentary video, several online exhibits and news stories like the one in the video link. Researchers continue to speculate on what caused Thonis-Heracleion to sink in the first place. Theories center around natural catastrophes such as earthquakes and tidal waves that caused the city’s silt foundation to liquefy and collapse.
Ah, bait click: yellow journalism for the new millennium. With just a few well-chosen words to pique your interest, the abundance of information available on the web could easily mislead you and worse – encourage you to mislead others with the click of a button.
The city’s fall in the eighth century may seem to coincide very loosely with the development of Islam and its spread across the northern half of Africa, on both sides of the Sahara desert. In addition to the first widespread slave deportation in Africa, some Arabs have been responsible for past and present destruction of Africa’s historical artifacts, such as massive grave and temple looting during Egypt’s medieval period. As recently as the 1960’s, the world had to put pressure on the modern government of Egypt to relocate the temples of Ramesses at Abu Simbel so the creation of the Aswan High Dam would not flood them.
At the same time, Arab scholars have given us some important documents like the Tarikh al-Sudan and the Tarikh al-Fettash, firsthand accounts of life in the Songhay Empire of West Africa. Moreover, nowhere in the public record does any researcher link the fall of Thonis-Heracleion to “Arab floods”, nor does the creator of the YouTube video give any explanation about the video’s title.
As the newscaster in the video states, the treasures of Thonis-Heracleion could take up to 200 years to sort through. How much more the vast buried history that we are learning as we rise from forced ignorance and being lied to about our identity and ancestral contributions to human society.
Perhaps at some time in the future, more information will come to light about any human involvement in the destruction of Thonis-Heracleion. But until we have more solid facts to go on, let’s avoid getting caught up in the historical rumor mill. The last thing we need is more lies circulating about our history.