The Greek Treasures of Susah: Head of Aphrodite Discovered Underwater – Al Marsad

 

 

Al Marsad profiles a young Libyan hero, Saad Bouyedam from Susah in Eastern Libya, who discovered priceless artifacts from antiquity and refused to hand them to smugglers trafficking Libya’s heritage. He put the interests of the country’s history first to preserve its cultural patrimony. 

[Libya, 3 August 2019] – Known today by its Libyan name of “Shahat”, the Greeks established the city of Cyrene in the year 631 BC, fifteen kilometres away from the sea and known as the “Athens of Africa”. To serve as a gateway to the city, a port was built on the coastal city of Apollonia, modern-day Susah. The port was built between 620 to 600 BC. They named it Apollonia after the Greek God Apollo, the God of music and poetry. During the sixth century AD, the city of Apollonia became the capital of the five-city province under the Romans (Pentapolis) and its name changed to Suzsa—or the Savior. The city was called Suzsa until the Islamic conquest in 641 AD when its name was eventually changed to Susah. Today it is considered as one of the most important Libyan cities that are included in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage List.

A map of the eastern part of Libya showing the location of Susah, a port city of enormous importance in ancient times.

Since more than two thousand years, the ships of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Phoenicians had anchored in the port of Apollonia. This port was known as one of the biggest ports of the South of the Mediterranean. Sadly, the port sunk under water in the year 365 AD. Most studies suggest that it most likely sunk because of old earthquakes that led to shifting of tectonic plates, which led to the fall of the port of Apollonia. Until today, the bases of this drowned port still exist on the beach of modern-day Susah, as well as artifacts that date back to the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine eras.

Aphrodite’s Hero: Saad Bouyadem

Centuries later, a young diver named Saad Abd-Salam Bouyadem from Susah heroically protects the heritage of Susah and Libya from the mafia. He recently made an astonishing finds when diving on the coast of Susah. So far, Saad discovered about 15 artifacts; statue heads, pottery, and stone anchors that date back to the different Greek, Roman, and Byzantine eras. Perhaps the most important artifact is the head of the Greek goddess Aphrodite—the goddess of Love for the Greeks and who is known as Venus among the Romans. This artifact was in a remarkably good state.

Bouyadem loved both diving and archeology: “during my family diving excursions as a kid, I always wondered about the nature of the city’s drowned port.” This fondness for ancient history defined his academic specialisation where he focused on the excavation of underwater artifacts and monuments.

In 2013, Saad decided that his graduation project in the Susah branch of the Omar Al-Mokhtar Faculty of Archaeology and Tourism would be a field study of the monuments of the underwater city of Apollonia. He did not expect that through this study he would be discover and excavate two artifacts that date back to the Hellenistic period of 332 to 96 BC.

Putting the Nation First

That was when Bouyedam was approached by the smuggling community. It is not a secret that negligence and ineffective surveillance of historical sites made the country an easy prey and an open market for smugglers of Libya’s archaeological treasures. Antiquities dealers even advertised their merchandises that are stolen from Libya on social media.

Bouyedam’s’s reputation reached some local dealers who contacted him and asked him not to deliver the drowned riches he discovers to the archaeological artifacts service but rather to sell it to them for a fortune. Bouyedman recounts that the smugglers told him: “do not bother with the archeology authority, and what do you expect the state to give you? Collaborate with us and we will all come to benefit.” He added:

“My motive in doing my job is my fondness of this specialty. Of course I was not tempted for a second. I never thought of breaching the scientific trust that is upon my shoulders and selling my principles.”

Saad owns one single diving suit. Even the camera he used to utilise for documentation broke because of excessive underwater use. This makes his mission even more difficult and sometimes impossible. He told Al Marsad that he has discovered heavy artifacts in sites which he did not disclose to us so that they would not be in danger from the smugglers. Their excavation requires modern specialised tools like balloons that are inflated underwater, as well as diving and lifting tools.

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Bouyedam handed all his discoveries to Libya’s Department of Antiquity which expressed its appreciation of his efforts and patriotism by honouring him in multiple ceremonies. For his heroic act, he received honour certificates from the Department of Antiquity of Shahat, as well as the badge of honour from the Green Mountain Archaeology Prize.

Today, Bouyedam continues to work on a Master’s thesis that aims at documenting the historical underwater treasures in Libya. He seeks conduct a survey and form specialist underwater excavation team to search for more artifacts. He said, “I call for the formation of a working group to excavate the underwater artifacts and to document them. I also call for improving the resources for the police guarding these ancient treasures.”

Rescuing Libya’s Heritage

The Mediterranean represents one of the greatest underwater museums due to its many coastal cities, ports, and ships that were submerged by water over the centuries. In all the ancient Libyan cities that lie on the coastal line from Msaad to Ras Ajdir, there are submerged ancient sites. Most of these have been documented by Italian and French studies. These studies are the result of field research in the water of the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, local awareness about Libya’s rich and astounding history is still limited.

Apollonia/Susah

The French writer Claude Sintes describes his participation in the excavation of artifacts in Libya during the 1980s:

“these artifacts revealed to me a world that I thought existed only in literary books. It is as if I suddenly moved to the world of novels and I feel like I am swimming and flying above a real Atlantis.”

Thanks to heroes like Saad Bouyedam, both the local and international community can catch glimpse of Atlantis.

© Al Marsad English. 2019.