The exact functions of the Khufu “solar vessels” unearthed south of the Pyramids of Giza, have come into question again after a new revelation by archaeologists showed that ancient Egyptians used metal in their boats.
The most famous of the vessels, and the largest, is the Khufu vessel, preserved in the Giza solar boat museum. The typically human-propelled vessels were discovered in several boat pits around the pyramids.
Now, a fresh dig near the Great Pyramid of Giza unearthed circular and U-shaped metal hooks in a piece of wood–eight metres in length, 40 centimetres wide–that belonged to the frame of a boat discovered during the same year as Khufu’s vessel.
In all the boats discovered from this era, “we have not found the use of metals in their frames like in this boat,” Mohamed Mostafa Abdel-Megeed, an antiquities ministry official and expert in boat-making in ancient Egypt, tells AFP.
In ancient Egypt, funerary boats were used to ferry the dead, most commonly in funeral processions of kings. The wooden boats were believed to be “magically charged” after having been used. And it’s the reason why ancient Egypt would dispose of them after use, since they were “dangerous to the living,” explains Pearce Paul Creasman, associate professor of Dendrochronology and Egyptian Archaeology and director of the Egyptian Expedition at the University of Arizona.
In the Old and Middle Kingdoms, funerary boats were buried near royal chambers at the pyramid complexes. Now, as far as many archaeologists believe, “solar boats were a concept, not necessarily a construction,” says the scientist, “to be used by the god Ra in his travels across the sky, perpetuating neheh, the cyclical nature of the world.” In iconography, solar barques feature a specific set of accouterments associated with them, setting them apart from other types of boats.
Creasman chats to Nature Middle East about the possible nature of the boats, in light of of the new discovery, the first of its kind.
NME: How significant is this discovery?
PPC: The discovery of metal used in association with the ships of ancient Egypt is significant as it fills a logical hole in our understanding. The Egyptians had metal and were capable seafarers, why wouldn’t they use the metals to improve the durability or function of their boats? Until the recent discoveries, including the Khufu II vessel as well as ship remains from the Red Sea harbor of Wadi Gawasis (dating to the Middle Kingdom), we lacked archaeological evidence to demonstrate such a link. While the finds from the Khufu II work have not yet been scientifically published, from the press photos it appears that the metal was used precisely where we might expect: at stress points, such as oarlocks. The totality of the importance of these finds will have to wait for the scientific publications and analyses, but this is a great start.
NME: Was not this seen before in ancient Egyptian boats?
PPC: In only one instance prior to the Khufu II finds has metal been found in association with the structure and function of ancient Egyptian boats, that is, the disarticulated boat parts from Wadi Gawasis. The Khufu II finds are, by far, the oldest and appear to be used in the locomotive aspects of the boat. While we have seen metal in association with sails and their ropes, we have not previously seen it in the human-propelled aspects of boats.
NME: Why is this an important piece of information for archaeologists?
PPC: In the more than 3,000 years of intensive maritime history for the pharaonic Egyptians, there must have been tens-of-thousands of boats created to traverse the waters. Yet, today we have comparatively little archaeological remains to understand the the ships that facilitated this maritime life: whole or part of only some 30 boats. So, any new clue in unraveling the mysteries of the world’s first great maritime society is extremely valuable.
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