Back to Class Home

The evidence of seafaring in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean world goes back as far as 9,000 B.C. This includes evidence of obsidian trade from the Greek island of Melos, as well as hunting activities (but not settlement) on the island of Cyprus.

While several wooden dug out canoes are preserved in Europe that are older than the Royal Ship of Khufu, we begin this course by looking at the oldest well-preserved wooden planked vessel so far uncovered and studied.

 

During the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingom of Egypt, the three famous pyamids were built at Giza by three successive Pharaos: Khufu (called Χέωψ - Cheops - in Ancient Greek) who ruled from 2589 to 2566 B.C, Khafre (or Chephren in Greek) and Menkaure (Mykerinos or Mycerinus in Greek)

The largest of the pyramids was the Great Pyramid, built by the Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops). Near the base of the great pyramid are 5 underground chambers. In each of these chambers the ancient Egyptians placed a dismantled boats for the Pharaoh's use in the afterlife.

Giza
Map of the Giza Complex. Click for Larger Version

In 1952, work began on opening the first chamber: a large pit covered with a giant limestone block sealed witih gypsum mortar. Inside were the almost perfectly-preserved remains of one of the Pharaoh's funerary ship, completely disassembled into 1,224 components.

In Situ 1

In situ 2
Ship Timbers in situ

Symbols carved into each of these piece denote its position within the hull so that the vessel could bem ore easily reassembled in the next world (or by modern nautical archaeologists!) The vessel has been resassembled, with some damaged or missing pieces repaired and modern lashings and is now on display in a specially constructed museum next to the Great Pyramid. A second chamber has been drilled into with the remains of anther ship visible inside. Unfortunately, it appears that during the construction of the museum, vibrations from the heavy machinery cracked the seal on this chamber, leading to a lot of damage to the pieces inside from exposure.

Symbols

The Royal Barge of Khufu (Cheops)

This ship is overwhelming, both in beauty and size.