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The Boatbuilding Industry of New Kingdom Egypt

Christopher Monroe
Thesis: May 1990
Chair: Bass
Nautical Archaeology Program

This study interprets the evidence pertaining to the construction of ships and large, secular craft during the New Kingdom period (ca. 1570-1070 BCE) of Egypt. It is the author's intent to contribute in two ways: first, a summary of the information gathered over the last hundred or so years is needed; secondly, a more sober perspective is offered, thanks to the advances made by nautical archaeology in the past few decades. Specifically, information gained from the excavation of a Late Bronze Age wreck at Ulu Burun, Turkey, is frequently compared to the Egyptian material. Four areas are examined independently: first, the personnel, tools and techniques of timber collection are studied via ancient texts; secondly, the workplace, viz. the dockyard workship, is looked at from the perspective of existing tools, texts and depictions; thirdly, the much-debated role of Egyptian seafaring is addressed in light of the constructional features of boats that appear in art and models; finally, the position of the boatbuilding class in Egyptian society is accessed by means of ancient texts. Egyptian terms relevant to this topic and a list of timbers that may have been employed are provided in appendices. Broadly speaking, it can be concluded that a class of state-employed men, women and children near Memphis were responsible for building ships and boats within a highly organized system.. Furthermore, the workplace and technology, though they evolved over a thousand-year period, underwent changes in the New Kingdom, probably instigated by contact with Canaan, the Aegean and Cyprus, that resulted in the adoption of the keel. As regards the social position of the boatbuilding class, it fell somewhere near the bottom of the socio-economic hierarchy.

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