ancient boat
February 2, 2016

Archaeologists uncover ancient Egyptian funeral boat at Abusir pyramids

Archeologists from the Czech Republic excavating south of Cairo have uncovered the remains of a 59-foot wooden boat, thought to be more than 4,500 years old.

In a statement from the Czech Institute of Archaeology at Charles University, the excavating team said the boat likely belonged to a prominent member of Egyptian society.

The team discovered the boat while clearing a mastaba or ancient tomb. The vessel was discovered lying on a bed of stones.

“In fact, this is a highly unusual discovery since boats of such a size and construction were, during this period, reserved solely for top members of the society, who usually belonged to the royal family,” said Miroslav Bárta, director of the excavation project. “This suggests the potential for additional discoveries during the next spring season.”

funeral boat

A view of the site where the boat was discovered. (Credit: Archives of the Czech Institute of Egyptology/L. Jirásková)

A remarkable discovery

While incredibly delicate, the approximately 4,500-year-old planks will offer new details on ship building in ancient Egypt. The wooden planks were connected by wooden pegs that are still in their original position. Astonishingly, the desert sand has conserved the plant fiber battens which topped the planking seams. A few of the ropes that bound the boat together are also still in their initial placement with all their details intact, which is quite a distinct discovery. All these tiny details are of the highest importance, the excavation team said, since most of the ancient Egyptian boats and ships have been found either in bad state of preservation, or were broken into pieces.

Scholars say these boats were likely meant to serve the deceased in the afterlife, and Old Kingdom kings often had many boats buried inside their pyramid complexes. Regrettably, most of them have been discovered devoid of wood, and others many have been found as brown dust in the shape of the original boat. Notably, two boats of Khufu that have survived, and were modeled or are currently undertaking reconstruction. A large boat from the Old Kingdom had not been discovered in a non-royal context, until the new discovery at Abusir.

"It is by all means a remarkable discovery," Barta said."The careful excavation and recording of the Abusir boat will make a considerable contribution to our understanding of ancient Egyptian watercraft and their place in funerary cult."

This year, the Czech Institute of Egyptology will launch a project, along with experts from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) at Texas A&M University, to examine the methods used in the hull’s construction.

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Feature Image: A view of the boat. (Credit: Archives of the Czech Institute of Egyptology/V. Dulikova)