Thursday, March 24, 2016

Short Story: Boat Discovery Sheds Light

A recently discovered 4,500-year-old non-royal boat in the Abusir necropolis is shedding new light on watercraft construction in ancient Egypt, reports Nevine El-Aref.

Scholars have long debated the purpose of ancient Egyptian boat burials. Did they serve the deceased in the afterlife? Or might they have functioned as symbolic solar barques used during the journey of the owner through the underworld?

The Old Kingdom kings adopted the earlier tradition and often had several boats buried within their pyramid complexes. Unfortunately, most of the pits that have been found are empty of timber, while others contain little more than brown dust in the shape of the original boat. The only exceptions are the two boats of the First Dynasty king Khufu, and these have been reconstructed or are in the process of reconstruction. However, no boat of such dimensions from the Old Kingdom has been found in a non-royal context until the newly discovered boat at Abusir.

Last December, a Czech archaeological mission from Charles University in Prague stumbled upon what is believed to be the first remains of a non-royal ancient Egyptian wooden boat ever found. The discovery was made during excavation work at the Abusir necropolis, in an area south of a still unidentified non-royal mastaba tomb identified as AS54.

Miroslav Bárta, the leader of the mission, told Al-Ahram Weekly that this unexpected discovery once again highlights the importance of this Old Kingdom official cemetery. He said that the excavation work that led to this important discovery started in 2009 on mastaba tomb AS54 and had been followed by several seasons of excavations.

The tomb’s exceptional size (52.60 metres by 23.80 metres), orientation, architectural details, as well as the name of the Third Dynasty king Huni discovered on one of the stone bowls buried in the northern underground chamber, indicated the high social standing of the person buried in the main and so far unlocated shaft, he said.

“Unfortunately, his name remains unknown due to the bad state of preservation of the cruciform chapel,” Barta said. He added that clearance work in the area south of the tomb during the autumn excavation season, from October to December 2015, had revealed an 18-metre-long wooden boat.

“Although the boat is situated almost 12 metres south of the tomb, its orientation, length and the pottery collected from its interior make a clear connection between the structure and the vessel, as both are dated to the very end of the Third or beginning of the Fourth Dynasty, or around 2550 BCE,” Bárta said. While extremely fragile, the roughly 4,500-year-old planks should shed new light on boat construction in ancient Egypt. The wooden planks were joined by wooden pegs that are still visible in their original positions.

Extraordinarily, the desert sand has preserved the plant-fibre battens of the boat that covered the planking seams. Some of the ropes that bound the boat together are also still in their original position, with all their details intact.

“It is really a unique discovery in the study of ancient Egyptian boats,” Bárta told the Weekly. He said that all the minute details are of the highest importance, since most ancient Egyptian boats and ships have survived either in a poor state of preservation or have been dismantled..... Read More. 

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