Al-Ahram Weekly Online   2 - 8 August 2012
Issue No. 1109
Heritage
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Sails set for eternity

The oldest funerary boat ever found was discovered early this week at the Abu Rawash archaeological site, Nevine El-Aref reports

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Situated eight kilometres northwest of the Giza plateau, Abu Rawash contains vestiges of archaeological remains that date back to various historical periods ranging from the prehistoric to the Coptic eras.

Abu Rawash displays exclusive funerary structures relating not only to the different ancient Egyptian periods but also their places of worship until quite late in time.

There at the prehistoric necropolis dating from the archaic period and located at the northern area of Mastaba number six (a flat-roofed burial structure), Egyptologists from the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo (IFAO) have uncovered 11 wooden panels of a funerary boat used by ancient Egyptians to transport the soul of their departed king to the afterlife right through eternity. It is the earliest such boat ever found.

"The boat is in a very well-preserved condition and is almost intact, thanks to the preservation power of the dry desert environment," Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim said. He added that each panel was six metres tall and 1.50 metres in width.

Ibrahim continued that early studies of the panels revealed that the boat belonged to King Den of the First Dynasty, who was not buried in Abu Rawash but whose tomb was found at the royal necropolis of the Early Dynastic kings in the Upper Egyptian town of Abydos.

Because of his young age, King Den shared the throne with his mother, Meritneith. It was said that Den was the best archaeologically attested ruler of his period. He brought prosperity to the land, and many innovations were attributed to his reign. He was the first to use granite in construction and decoration, and the floor to his tomb is made of red and black granite.

During his reign Den established many of the patterns of court ritual and royalty used by his successor kings.

The newly-discovered panels of the boat have been transported to the planned National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) for restoration and reconstruction in the museum's laboratories. Once the museum is opened next year, the funerary boat will be exhibited in the Nile Hall.

King Den's boat is far from the first funerary boat to be discovered. In 1954 historian and archaeologist Kamal El-Malakh discovered the two solar boats of the Fourth-Dynasty king Khufu intact inside two pits beside the pyramid. One of these boats was restored and reconstructed by the renowned restorer Ahmed Youssef and was put on display in a special exhibition hall near the Great Pyramid, while the second one remained in the pit until 1992 when a Japanese archaeological team carried out research on the boat inside the pit. In 2011, the Japanese-Egyptian mission began the first stage of a three-phase project to lift the cedar panels, reconstruct the boat and place it on display at the side of its twin in the planned Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) overlooking Giza plateau, which is planned to be open in 2015.

The Abu Rawash site was described in the early 19th century by European travellers including Howard Vyse and John Shae Perring. Four decades after Karl Lepsius published the results of his research on the pyramid complex of King Djedefre, son of the Great Pyramid builder King Khufu, in 1842, Flinders Petrie -- renowned as the father of Egyptology -- conducted a survey on the funerary complex between 1880 and 1882.

In 1901 and 1902, the IFAO was the first mission to begin in-depth archaeological excavations at the eastern fa│řade of the pyramid at Abu Rawash. The dig was led by the IFAO Director Emile Chassinat, who discovered several archaeological complexes including the remains of a funerary settlement, an empty boat pit and numerous statuary fragments that bore the name of King Djedefre, which allowed for the identification of the tomb owner. Under the direction of Pierre Lacau, the IFAO continued the excavation work and found new structures to the east of the pyramid of Djedefre.

However, an earlier presence was indicated at Abu Rawash as was evidenced by objects bearing the names of the First-Dynasty kings Aha and Den that were found near the pyramid.

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