Egypt’s Sunken Cities: Takeaways From a Museum Tour

Just before the news broke that the Minneapolis Institute of Art president and director, Kaywin Feldman, will be leaving Minneapolis to become director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., we toured Egypt’s Sunken Cities at Mia. This exhibition features artifacts from two ancient Egyptian cities, which sunk to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea more than 1,200 years ago. In 2000, underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio and his team discovered those cities, and today, some of the cities’ statues are standing tall (quite literally) at Mia.

In partnership with our friend and Studio/E member Kristin Prestegaard, we took a tour of these mystical artifacts, drawing on similarities between the ancient cities — called Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus — and civilization in the 21st century. Some of the threads which weave through both this exhibition and Studio/E’s own narrative are the role of ritual, the importance of learning communities, and the influence of ideas over time.

Franck Goddio and team’s excavation of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus from the sea bed gave us a deeper understanding of ritual in ancient Egypt. The Nile River was a source of abundance for Egypt, but much emphasis was put on Osiris, the god of rebirth, in ensuring the continuation of the river’s bounty. The role of ritual in ancient Egypt back when Thonis-Heracleion was one of the greatest port cities in the world was assigning the outcomes to a higher power — Osiris.

It’s worth mentioning, too, the ritual of writing to document stories. Storytelling is human nature, and we have it to thank for the preservation of the times of 1,200 years ago. One ritual we practice is that of reflection, which we do through journaling and meditation.

One of the stories preserved through time is that of Thonis-Heracleion serving as a learning center for the Egyptian Empire. By default, a port city creates a space for a community of people from all walks of life to gather. Creating a multi-dimensional learning community ourselves, we believe that true learning and growth comes from exposure to those who are different from you. Our guess is that a lot of learning happened in Thonis-Heracleion. Much like the physical items that crossed back and forth through this port city, ideas came too. Which brings us to our last takeaway from Egypt’s Sunken Cities:

Ideas evolve. As the roles of deities changed throughout the Egyptian Empire’s 3,000-year reign, so, too, did the art. Ideas are meant to change but it’s not every day you have an opportunity to really observe how the dissemination of ideas shaped a civilization.

To extend our takeaways from Egypt’s Sunken Cities into your own life, consider the following questions:

  • What rituals do you undertake in order to create regularity in your life? 

  • Beyond a learning community, where else do you intentionally intersect with new thinking and ideas?

  • Are there useful ideas you use today which trace back to earlier times? How does that inform and shape how you think of those ideas?

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Do This: Would you like to see Egypt’s Sunken Cities? Join us on Thursday, January 17 for Explorers Thursday — our partnership with Mia. There will be free admittance into the exhibition that evening, and through activities, tools, and methodologies, we’ll be turning everyone into explorers.

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