10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the 5000-Year-Old Egyptian Abydos Boats

Archaeologists discovered an entire fleet of ancient Egyptian vessels at the beginning of this century. To date, these are the oldest examples of built wooden boats, dated to around 3000 BC.

The ancient Egyptian site of the Abydos boats represents a whole fleet of ships found in the sands of Abydos in Egypt. Ships played an important role in ancient Egypt, not only in people’s daily lives but also in religion and mythology.

The flow of the Nile from south to north meant that water transport was an integral part of Egyptian civilization. In mythology, even the god Ra traveled through the heavens in a large sun boat. In fact, there are currently more artistic illustrations of boats and ships than real ones. That is why the Abydos boats are considered one of the greatest Egyptian-related discoveries of the current century.

1. The discovery of a single ancient ship’s hull led to the excavations of the Abydos boats in October 2000

In October 2000, archaeologists from the Penn Museum and Yale University discovered a 5,000-year-old wooden boat hull in Abydos. It was already known that there should be ships in the region but none had been discovered previously. 

2. Archaeologists excavated 14 ancient Egyptian vessels

To date, 14 different vessels have been discovered, all about 5,000 years old.

3. The Abydos boats were located near the burial enclosure of Pharaoh Khasekhemwy

The existence of at least ten boats in the area of ​​Abydos has been known since 1991. The vessels were located next to a huge burial enclosure dating from the late pharaoh of the Second Dynasty – Khasekhemwy. But then the boats were not examined, probably due to fear that they might be damaged.

4. Despite the nearby burial enclosure of the Pharaoh, the boats were placed there long before his time

Although the boats were found near the enclosure of Khasekhemwy, they were placed there much earlier and were not intended for him, but for a pharaoh of the First Dynasty. At least this is what scholars believe. 

5. The Abydos Boats are between 12 and 24 meters long

The Abydos boats variate in size with the smallest one being 12 meters and the longest – 24 meters. The average width is between 2 and 3 meters for each boat. Scholars have generally agreed that a single boat must have needed at least 30 rowers.

6. The purpose of the Abydos boats is uncertain

It is unclear whether these vessels were used or built specifically for a funeral ritual. After all, this is a very rare find, because until now, most boat-related discoveries were simple models. For example, 35 of them were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb.

7. The Abydos Boats are the oldest built wooden boats found

The vessels are considered to be the earliest examples of “built boats”. They are made of assembled boards, unlike the previous types, which were simply carved logs. The complexity of constructing these vessels is a reflection of the power and wealth of the pharaohs in the early dynastic period in ancient Egypt.

8. The boats could have had an important symbolic function

Apart from the usual practical purpose that boats have, the Abydos boats must have had an important symbolic function.

The ancient Egyptians believed that the sun god Ra traveled through the heavens and beyond in a sun boat. The daily journey through the firmament represents the cycle of rebirth.

Therefore, by burying boats near a Pharaoh’s tomb, the ancient Egyptians hoped that he would enjoy eternal rebirth in the afterlife.

The symbolism of the boat in Egyptian culture is also visible in the famous ship of Cheops, which was found in the Great Pyramid of Giza.

9. No additional boat gear has been discovered

Beside the actual boat remains, no other distinctive remains have been discovered. None of the usual gear like paddles, seats, etc. has been found. As it seems, the boats were buried exactly as they were built.

10. Scholars believe that the boats were originally painted white

All Abydos boats were buried and then additionally sealed with a casing made from mudbrick. This makes it extremely hard to determine any of the original decorations or colors. However, minor traces of certain pigments were discovered, suggesting that the original color of all boats was white.

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