Solar Boats of Ancient Egypt

In June of 2011, archaeologists unearthed the stones concealing another solar boat in close proximity to the Great Pyramids of Giza. A similar boat was found nearby in 1954 and is believed to be the world’s oldest intact ship. It is currently housed in its own museum at the base of Khufu’s pyramid. Both boats were found disassembled and it will be several years before the new boat will be fully restored and ready for exhibition. The ships were able to survive 4,500 years of decay because of the air tight shafts they were laid to rest in. To keep the second boat preserved from intruding insects and other decomposers, the pit was completely sealed in a climate controlled tent. Robotic cameras were sent in first to examine the boat, and it will take several months of excavation to extract all the pieces of the new boat.

While findings on the newly unearthed boat have yet to be published, we know a great deal about the first Khufu ship. The boat is 143 feet long and is constructed of over 1200 individual pieces. Since Egypt does not have any naturally growing good timber trees, the wood had to have been imported. The boat has no mast, but may have been used as funerary barge during Khufu’s funeral procession.

The boat’s association with the Great Pyramid of Khufu is a reflection of the Ancient Egyptian’s obsession with the afterlife. It is likely that the boats were laid to rest to assist Khufu in his journey through the afterlife. This was a common burial practice amongst ancient Egyptian’s who would fill their tombs with a wide variety of grave goods. Likely to have never even touched the water, the boats were instead directly interned next to the pharaoh’s  tomb for his use.The boats are also an embodiment of the sun god Ra’s daily journey across the sky in his solar boat, only to descend below the horizon to do battle with his foes. The soul of the pharaoh was said to accompany Ra as he made this journey.

Just last year an even older boat was discovered by a team from the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology. This smaller boat is estimated to be 5,000 years old and date from the time of the Pharaoh Den. It is currently being restored at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. The boat is expected to go on display sometime this year. Solar boats were not an uncommon phenomenon and a total of seven have been identified in association with the Pyramids of Giza.