Timbers from the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu’s second solar boat have been discovered on the Giza Plateau, writes Nevine El-Aref
During restoration work carried out in the pit of the Pharaoh Khufu’s second solar boat on the Giza Plateau, restorers have stumbled upon what are believed to be the floors of the shrine of the captain’s boat, supervisors said this week.
“This is a great step forward in the conservation of Khufu’s second boat,” said Eissa Zidan, supervisor of the restoration work, adding that 700 timbers had been removed from the boat pit located beside the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza.
Beams from the captain’s shrine are the latest items to be removed and others are still inside the pit.
The beams were in poor condition and the team had carried out preliminary restoration work in situ before transporting them to the Grand Egyptian Museum where they would be comprehensively restored before being exhibited, Zidan said.
Khufu’s boats had two shrines, he said, one for the pharaoh located at the end of the boats and the other for the captain at the front. The team had confirmed that the timbers belonged to the boat captain’s shrine after comparing them with those from the first solar boat, now on display at Khufu’s Solar Boat Museum on the Giza Plateau, he said.
It had solicited the help of experts in boat construction in order to determine the purpose of every piece of the boat. The shrine was also documented and photographed with a 3D laser scanner, Zidan said.
Restorers had removed the beams from the pit piece by piece and covered them in situ with a special chemical solution in order to protect them from the atmosphere outside the pit. In the laboratory, they had first reduced the humidity of the beams until it had reached 55 per cent and then subjected them to treatment and consolidation.
3D documentation of every piece of the boat was also carried out in order to document all the pieces, eventually helping in the reconstruction of the boat. Work is continuing in order to remove all the beams from the pit, restore the boat and reconstruct it to be put on display beside its sister.
The boat was discovered along with the first one inside two pits neighbouring each other in 1954 when Egyptian archaeologists Kamal Al-Mallakh and Zaki Nour were carrying out routine cleaning on the southern side of the Great Pyramid.
The first pit was found under a roof of 41 limestone slabs, each weighing almost 20 tons, with the three westernmost slabs being much smaller than the others and leading them to be interpreted as keystones.
On removing one of the slabs, Al-Mallakh and Nour saw a cedar boat, completely dismantled but arranged in the semblance of its finished form, inside the pit. Also inside were layers of mats, ropes, instruments made of flint, and some small pieces of white plaster, along with 12 oars, 58 poles, three cylindrical columns and five doors.
The boat was removed piece by piece under the supervision of restorer Ahmed Youssef, who spent more than 20 years restoring and reassembling the boat. The task resembled the fitting together of a giant jigsaw puzzle, and the completed boat is now on display at Khufu’s Solar Boat Museum on the Giza Plateau.
In the neighbouring pit, the second boat remained sealed up until 1987 when it was examined by the American National Geographic Society in association with the then Egyptian Office for Historical Monuments.
A hole was bored into the limestone beams covering the boat, into which a micro-camera and measuring equipment were inserted. The void space over the boat was photographed and air measurements made, after which the pit was resealed.
In 2009, a Japanese team from Waseda University headed by Sakuji Yoshimura offered to remove the boat from the pit, restore and reassemble it, and put it on show to the public. The team cleaned the pit of insects and inserted a camera through a hole in the chamber’s limestone ceiling in order to examine the boat’s condition and determine appropriate methods to restore it.
A large hanger was constructed over the area surrounding the second boat pit, with a smaller hanger inside to cover the top of the boat itself.
The hangers were designed to protect the wooden remains during analysis and treatment. A temporary magazine and laboratory were established inside the hanger to use during the restoration process.
State-of-the-art equipment such as a device to adjust the temperature and humidity vital to the preservation of the wooden boat’s remains was installed. Laser scanning also documented the area and the wall between the Great Pyramid and the boat pit. A solar electricity system was installed at the site to save energy during chemical treatments.
“In 2011, the Japanese-Egyptian team lifted aside the first stone block, weighing 16 tons, to start uncovering Khufu’s second boat and begin concrete restoration work,” Yoshimura told Al-Ahram Weekly at the time.
Zidan said the beams, timbers, ropes and oars of the boat were buried in sand on 13 levels that housed approximately 1,200 pieces of the boat. 700 pieces had now been removed from the pit, he said.