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Ancient Egypt

Egypt's Oldest Boat

by John Duce, 1 November 2000

Archaeologists in Egypt believed in the year 2000 that they had found the earliest surviving example of a purpose-built boat.

The subject of their findings was thought to date to circa 3,000 BC and was found at a royal burial site. Older, hollowed-out logs, which are thought to have been used as canoes, have been found in Africa and Europe, but the researchers in Egypt believed that their find was the first surviving example of complex boat construction.

The archaeologists behind the discovery knew that at least a dozen ancient boats were buried at the royal burial site at Abydos, about four hundred and fifty kilometres south of Cairo.

Boat for the afterlife

Part of one craft had now been fully excavated by an American team which stated that it was hundreds of years older than any previous similar craft so far to have been found in Egypt.

However, similar collections of buried boats have since been found, most of which date to the period between the Early Dynastic period at the start of the Archaic Period and the Third Dynasty at the start of the Old Kingdom period.

The Abydos boat was thought to be about twenty-five metres long and less than a metre deep and was made of thick wooden planks lashed together with rope. The archaeologists were able to date the find to the beginnings of the rise of ancient Egyptian civilisation, suggesting that the boat may have been intended for the use of a pharaoh in the afterlife.

The ancient Egyptians believed that when a pharaoh died he would sail down the Nile, along with the sun god Ra. Traces of yellow pigment were found on the craft suggesting the boat was brightly painted. Further excavations were planned at the site in the winter of 2001.



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