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Life along the Nile.
TREASURES FROM THE DEEP

Now underwater, this ancient Egyptian trading city was once the “Hong Kong of its era”

By Deena Shanker

If you were an ancient Egyptian looking for a gift for a loved one, you wouldn’t go to Target. But you might have stopped in Naukratis.

Once thought to have been a small town on the Nile Delta in Egypt, an excavation by the British Museum has revealed that the ancient city of Naukratis was actually a major Greek trading hub. Indeed, Naukratis could potentially be considered the “Hong Kong of its era,” according to Dr. Ross Thomas, the museum’s curator and the project leader, as reported by the Guardian.

First located in 1884 by British archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie, the site “occupied a special place in the minds of scholars and a general public alike, speaking particularly to romantic minds,” according to the British Museum. Situated on the Canopic (western) branch of the Nile, Naukratis has been excavated multiple times since its 19th century reveal.

This latest excavation discovered evidence of a 1,000-year trading network, beginning in the seventh century BC, according to the Guardian. More than 10,000 artifacts were found at the site—previously thought to have been fully harvested of its archaeological prizes—including the wood from Greek ships and relics of the “festival of drunkenness.” (The name of the city means “mistress of ships.”)

The findings are significant because until now, experts believed Naukratis to be about 30 hectares (or about 0.12 square miles). But, the British Museum’s Thomas explains, he now believes the city was at least twice that size. In addition to being a trading center, Thomas says there is also evidence of “tower houses,” apartment-like structures ranging from three to six stories tall. ”We should imagine a mud-brick Manhattan, populated with tall houses and large sanctuaries, befitting a large cosmopolitan city.”

The British Museum plans to feature pieces unearthed at Naukratis in its Sunken Cities exhibition next year. Opening in May of 2016, the exhibit will include approximately 200 artifacts retrieved from the Nile, including some on loan from Egyptian museums—the first such loans since the Arab Spring revolution, according to the BBC.