for National Geographic News
The first physical clues to a long-rumored town that existed on the site of present-day Alexandria have been uncovered—by accident.
While searching under the waves of Alexandria's East Bay for Greek and Roman ruins, archaeologists discovered signs of building construction 700 years older than Alexander the Great's invasion of Egypt.
The conquerer founded Alexandria in 332 B.C. (Related: "Alexander the Great Conquered City via Sunken Sandbar" [May 15, 2007].)
The new find is "the first hard evidence" of Rhakotis, a town mentioned in several histories of the region but whose existence had never been substantiated, said geoarchaeologist Jean-Daniel Stanley of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.
And the results, which are published in the August issue of the journal GSA Today, were "a bit of serendipity," Stanley said.
Stanley has helped the Franck Goddio Society and Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities search for clues to what might have caused the structural failure of Greek- and Roman-era buildings, roads, and piers now sitting at the bottom of the bay.
The team sunk a half-dozen vibracores—vibrating three-inch (eight-centimeter) hollow tubes—into the muck and silt of the bay's floor.
The tubes contained layered soil samples, or cores—some as long as 20 feet (7 meters).
Stanley took his samples back to Washington, D.C., and dated them using a radiocarbon technique.
Though he was searching for cracked or damaged rocks that might suggest how Greek-era structures had failed, he was surprised to find older signs of human endeavor.
The cores turned up lead and human waste that were more than 3,000 years old—evidence of a significant settlement centuries before Alexander stormed Egypt.
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