Archaeologists from Charles University in Prague have begun to excavate a funerary boat that dates back to the Third or Fourth Dynasty of ancient Egypt, circa 2550 BC. The Abusir region, where the boat was found, is an extensive necropolis of ancient tombs amidst a large pyramid field that lies to the south of Cairo. The sand and lack of moisture have helped preserve a number of artifacts in the Abusir area, but the discovery of a complete funerary boat is extremely rare. A from Charles University states:
While extremely fragile, the roughly 4,500 year old planks will shed new light on ship building in ancient Egypt. The wooden planks were joined by wooden pegs that are still visible in their original position. Extraordinarily, the desert sand has preserved the plant fiber battens which covered the planking seams. Some of the ropes that bound the boat together are also still in their original position with all their details intact, which is a unique discovery in the study of ancient Egyptian boats.
The 62-foot-long vessel was never intended to take to the water. Ancient Egyptians of the had boats and buried with them in mastabas, or tombs made of mud bricks. The purpose of the burial boats is a subject of debate among scholars, but many think that the boats were either intended to shuttle the dead to , the ancient Egyptian underworld, or as means for the deceased to navigate the realm of the dead.
The discovery is also notable because the use of burial boats was thought to be reserved for the royal family. The Abusir boat was found too far away from a royal pyramid for it to have belonged to a member of royalty, though the size of the tomb it was recovered from and the boat itself suggest that its owner was an elite member of society. Now that the Czech archeologists know that burial boats were part of funeral rites outside the royal family, they are optimistic that more boats will be found.
"It is by all means a remarkable discovery," says Miroslav Bárta, the director of the Abusir excavations, in the Charles University press release. "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."