An ancient funerary boat, unearthed at the Abusir pyramids, a necropolis of the Old Kingdom period located in the vicinity of the modern capital of Cairo, is shedding light on Egyptian burial beliefs and shipbuilding. Remains of the wooden vessel, noted as being over 4,500 year’s old, once belonged to a prominent member of society, archaeologists indicated.
Reports the AFP on Feb. 1, via MSN News: “While members of the team were clearing a mastaba or ancient tomb, they found parts of the 18-meter-long (59-foot) boat covered in sand and lying on a bed of stones… The boat’s length and pottery found with it shows that it could be from the end of the third or beginning of the fourth dynasty.”
The ancient Egyptians engrossed themselves with elaborate preparations of the dead, as belief in the afterlife and polytheistic worship were ingrained as part of their daily lives. As a civilization, Egyptians practiced elaborate funeral observations, attempting to provide the deceased with items they thought necessary to gain entry into the next life.
Bodies were often interred with goods that the dead would use in the afterlife. Funerary boats were thought to carry a soul to the afterlife; dead pharaohs were said to require the boats to cross the sky alongside their sun god Ra.
“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,” Czech archaeologists said in a statement, adding that the locations of the remains indicate the “extraordinary social position of the owner of the tomb.”
Funerary boats averaged about 20 feet in length, though longer boats indicated a greater social status or ranking position of the deceased. Pharaoh Khufu, who built the Great Pyramid at Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was buried with a boat that was 144-feet in length and contained 12 oars, allowing six of Khufu’s slaves to “row” the pharaoh across the sky each day.
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Egyptian funerary boats were crafted with wooden planks – often cedars brought in from Lebanon – imported at great expense from other regions of the Middle East. Egyptians crafted the first known planked boats, known as Abydos boats, in which rope and pegs were used to tie grooved planks together in watertight pattern.
“The wooden planks were joined by wooden pegs that are still visible in their original position. Extraordinarily, the desert sand has preserved the plant fiber battens which covered the planking seams,” the statement said. “It is by all means a remarkable discovery.”
According to the Gulf Times, Egyptologist Miroslav Barta, who is leading the dig, 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.”