Old Kingdom boat ruins discovered for first time in Saqqara Necropolis
The remains of an Old Kingdom wooden boat were unearthed in Abusir necropolis, 25 kilometres from the Giza Plateau
To the north of the yet unidentified non-royal mastaba number AS 54 at Saqqara necropolis, a Czech mission from Charles University of Prague, lead by archaeologist Muroslav Barta, unearthed the wooden beams of an Old Kingdom boat.
Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty described the discovery as “important” because it is the first time that such a boat has been found at Saqqara necropolis.
It also highlights the importance of the mastaba owner and his direct relationship with the king at the time, Eldamaty added.
“Although the name of the mastaba owner has not yet been identified due to the bad preservation condition of the shrine, the boat wreck shows that he was a very important man in the royal palace - a top official or a close person to the king but not a royal family,” Eldamaty told Ahram Online.
He added that both the size of the mastaba tomb, as well as the presence of the boat itself clearly place the deceased within the elite of his time with strong connections to the reigning pharaoh.
The minister also explained that a large number of wooden beams and ropes were found that gave archeologists a opportunity to understand the original design of the boat and how ancient Egyptians built it.
“Most of the previously uncovered Old Kingdom boats are in a very bad preservation condition except those of King Khufu,” Eldmaty pointed out.
He said, however, that the newly discovered boat would reveal more details about the construction of boats during the Old Kingdom.
The Head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department Mahmoud Afifi said that a collection of clay pots and pans from the end of the third dynasty and the beginning of the fourth dynasty, which were also unearthed, could help reveal the specific date of the construction of the boat and mastaba.
Afifif added that preliminary examination of the boat beams reveal that the vessel was originally 18 metres long.
The Czech mission uncovered the mastaba tomb AS 54 in 2009.
Barta said that the Czech archaeological institute, in collaboration with the Institute of Nautical Achaeology at Texas A&M University, will launch this year a scientific project aimed at studying the techniques ancient Egyptians used in the construction of boats.
He went on to say that the construction details are not the only features that make the boat unique.
The habit of burying boats beside mastabas began in the Early Dynastic Period.
"This phenomenon has been well documented for royal structures, as well as for some tombs belonging to members of the royal family - the elite of society," Barta told Ahram Online.
He noted that “In fact, this is a highly unusual discovery because 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. This suggests the potential for additional discoveries during the next spring season.”
Barta explained that scholars continue to debate the purpose of Egyptian boat burials. Did they serve the deceased in the afterlife? Might they have functioned as symbolical solar barques? Or were they used during the journey of the owner through the underworld?
The Old Kingdom kings adopted the earlier tradition, and often had several boats buried within their pyramid complexes.
Unfortunately, Barta pointed out, most of the pits have been found already empty of any timber, while others contained little more than brown dust in the shape of the original boat.
The only exception were the two boats of Khufu that have survived and were reconstructed or are in the process of reconstruction.
However, no boat of such dimensions from the Old Kingdom has been found found in a non-royal context before the new discovery at Abusir.
“It is by all means a remarkable discovery. 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.
"And where there is one boat, there very well may be more,” Barta concluded.