Sunday, November 20, 2016


Archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania, working with Egypt’s Ministry of State for Antiquities, have exposed the ruins of what was once a grand hall some 70 feet long and 13 feet wide. This work was partly funded by a grant from the National Geographic Society. The finely plastered, whitewashed walls were decorated with more than 120 incised drawings of boats, each slightly different from the next. Some were simple outlines of hulls curved like crescent moons. Others were more elaborate, showing a mast and sails and oarsmen. Most were crowded together, with many touching or overlapping.

At first, Wegner and his team had no idea what this building might have been used for. “We were quite mystified,” he says. “We were expecting it to be a tomb.” But the clues they’ve uncovered suggest it was constructed to bury a large wooden boat that had been used in a royal funeral, in line with a tradition that stretches back to the earliest days of dynastic Egypt.

As a graduate student, Wegner participated in an excavation at Abydos that found 14 wooden vessels—some as long as 75 feet— from about 3000 B.C. All lay in mud-brick structures arrayed outside the funerary complex of a 1st-dynasty king. Wegner sees evidence of a similar scheme at this site, known as south Abydos.

When his crew dug a test trench to find the floor of the building with the boat sketches, they found a gentle curve—the perfect shape to cradle a boat’s hull. They also found a few pieces of wood that were badly decayed and ravaged by insects. Wegner believes these are the remaining scraps of a boat that was looted in antiquity for its lumber. Since the boat had a royal connection, the lumber probably included expensive cedar planks imported from Lebanon—very much worth stealing, especially in a country where trees of any kind are scarce.

The boat would have been built at the height of the 12th dynasty, when Egypt sent military campaigns to both the Levant in the north and Nubia in the south. During this period of great wealth and power, the king must have had money to burn on any number of monumental projects—including more than one potential burial place. Each required an enormous investment of resources and reflected very different designs.

See National Geographic site for the full story.


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