Monday, July 18, 2016

2,000-Year-Old Lost City of Rhapta

The full extent of Roman interests have largely been lost and a discovery such as this is hugely important. The sailing distance was huge and needed to be supported by a compelling trade story.  That a predominantly Roman city sprung up is still surprising.

The potential for Roman trade into Mesoamerica has also never been truly disproved and certainly we know that trade did continue after 1159 BC through to the Roman collapse in Western Europe.  After that it likely became just too difficult and we had a thousand year loss of contact.

Again archaeology has much to teach us and speculative archaeology many future surprises.

2,000-Year-Old Lost City of Rhapta May Have Been Found in Tanzania

Centuries of speculations related to the lost city of Rhapta may have been ended with a discovery made during a helicopter flight over Tanzania's Mafia Island.  A set of partially submerged ancient ruins are believed to be the Roman market town, which had become lost to the pages of history.

The discovery took a place when scuba-diver Alan Sutton spotted an unusually-shaped formation in the water while flying in a helicopter off the coast of Tanzania. After a few years of searching for the ruins, he announced his success in a  blog post . It took him three years to discover the ruins of structures resembling an ancient harbor city. Researchers claim that the ruins cover a large area and there are impressive lines of foundations covered by the thousands of square and oblong blocks. 

Photographs of some of the square and rectangular blocks that were found off Mafia Island in Tanzania. Photographs of some of the square and rectangular blocks that were found off Mafia Island in Tanzania.

Photographs of some of the square and rectangular blocks that were found off Mafia Island in Tanzania.  Credit: Seaunseen / Alan Sutton 

The discovery was confirmed by archeologists from the Dar es Salaam University, who agree that the ruins may very well be the lost city of Rhapta, which was mentioned in an account by Diogenes, a seaman on the India trade, who visited Rhapta. It is known that Rhapta was a coastal Roman trading outpost located in southeast Africa, which became an impressive city during the 1 st century AD. It was described in the Periplus of the Erythraen Sea from c. 50 AD. An author explains that it was the most southerly settlement of Azania, possibly referring to what is now Mafia Island. 

In the 1890s, a German explorer arrived there to find an old Portuguese port. During his adventure, he mapped Mafia Island, which helped Sutton understand the topography of the region. According to the archaeologist Felix Chami from the University of Dar es Salaam, ''the ruins are that of Rhapta, as the construction techniques, ceramics and location all fit early descriptions of the city''. He believes that the location of the city is not questionable if one relies on descriptions in Roman documents. 

The city of Rhapta was may have been the first metropolis in Africa, and was famous for being a trading hub for tortoise shells and metal weapons. It disappeared from the pages of history about 1,600 years ago for unknown reasons. Now, due to Sutton’s discovery, researchers may be able to uncover the secrets of the lost city. 

As Mr Sutton told the DailyMail:
“The island on which it is attached to is Mafia also known by Ptolemy as Mafiaco. Exactly whether this is Rhapta remains 'a puzzle for the archaeologists to figure out… It seems very old and to have been extremely well constructed, in a fashion unlike the architecture of other ruins in Tanzania and doubtless the site will keep archaeologists busy for many years. Without a large amount of research it is impossible to say exactly what the site is. It however appears to be a very old harbor city.''
African coasts still contain many ancient secrets. However, most of the uncovered ones are connected with the northern part of the continent. One of the most impressive sites was located near the coast of Egypt. As April Holloway from Ancient Origins reported in April 29, 2013:
''The city of Heracleion, home of the temple where Cleopatra was inaugurated, plunged into the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Egypt nearly 1,200 years ago.  It was one of the most important trade centres in the Mediterranean before it sank more than a millennium ago. For centuries, the city was believed to be a myth, much like the city of Atlantis is viewed today.  But in 2001, an underwater archaeologist searching for French warships stumbled across the sunken city. 

After removing layers of sand and mud, divers uncovered the extraordinarily well preserved city with many of its treasures still intact including, the main temple of Amun-Gerb, giant statues of pharaohs, hundreds of smaller statues of gods and goddesses, a sphinx, 64 ancient ships, 700 anchors, stone blocks with both Greek and Ancient Egyptian inscriptions, dozens of sarcophagi, gold coins and weights made from bronze and stone.''
Top image: Underwater photograph of some of the rectangular blocks that were found off Mafia Island in Tanzania.  Credit: Seaunseen / Alan Sutton

No comments: