Excavations at an ancient Egyptian shipyard have unearthed remains of the world’s oldest seafaring ships. The 4,000-year-old timbers were found alongside equally ancient cargo boxes, anchors, coils of rope and other naval materials just as old, at what archaeologists are calling a kind of ancient military administration site.
The massive complex, made up of six man-made caves, is located at Wadi Gawasis, a small desert bluff on the Red Sea near the modern city of Port Safaga. According to Cheryl Ward, Florida State University archaeologist and part of the excavation team, the age of the finds is remarkable.
“Older water crafts, like dug-out canoes, have been found throughout the world, but these are the oldest sea-going ships. More significantly, the next oldest [ships ever discovered] in Egypt are 700 years younger,” Ward told LiveScience.
Just as crucial, however, is what the find says about ancient Egypt’s naval capacity. According to Ward, it was widely thought that while ancient Egyptians often traveled along the Nile in smaller river boats, they did not have the technological ability to voyage long distances. Evidence at Wadi Gawasis seems to suggest that they were, in fact, prolific sea-goers like later civilizations in Greece and Rome.
Specifically, hieroglyphs inscribed on some of the cargo boxes indicate that many came from a single origin: the almost mythical city of Punt, whose exact location is still unknown but is thought to lie nearly 1,000 miles away in the southern reaches of the Red Sea.
Before setting out to sea, Egyptians needed to transfer shipping materials, tools, and goods from the main cities along the Nile to the shore, where they were assembled. The caves, measuring 60 to 70 feet on average, were likely created specifically for the task, Ward theorizes.
“You can compare these caves to airport hangars, more than anything else. If all the planes were flown out of the hangars, what would be left over? Parts, tools, bits and pieces; it’s the same here,” she said. “We also found that the Egyptians had recycled a lot of ship parts and reused them architecturally within.“
Timber remains at Wadi Gawasis demonstrate that when ships returned from several months at sea, they were disassembled in the caves and parts inspected for wear and tear. Those pieces that were too badly worn by the burrowing of shipworms were discarded, while those in better shape were kept for later voyages. The mere presence of shipworm damage, accrued usually during voyages of at least several months, suggests that ancient Egyptians actually spent a lot of time at sea.
“Egyptians even sailed to Lebanon to gather cedar for building their ships. The resin in this wood was thought to prevent damage, but it obviously didn’t work very well.”
CHERYL WARD, a maritime archaeologist recreated an Egyptian ship of these old times, around 3,800 years ago, using traditional materials and local craftsmen. They succeeded in launching her and navigating down the Red Sea for a considerable way, and a remarkable journey. (Full story here).
HATSHEPSUT – the queen who became pharaoh.
Hatshepsut was a female pharaoh of Egypt for 22 years from 1472 B.C. She died in 1457 B.C. (18th Dynast, New Kingdom). She was the wife and consort of Thutmose II (her brother) and had one daughter, Neferare. Her parents were Thutmose I and Queen Ahmose. She was succeeded by her step-son/nephew, Thutmose III.
The identity of a 3,500-old mummy, an elderly female, from tomb KV60 in the Valley of the Kings, was made with advances in science; a CT scan of a single tooth in a box with Hatshepsut’s name on it perfectly matched a tooth socket in the mummy’s jaw. Royal lineage has been also supported by DNA analysis of some yet unnamed fragment of the mummy and a longer dead female royal relative.
Hatshepsut was a well-built 50-year-old lady and may have had diabetes and thinning but long hair. This Queen of Egypt also wore black and red nail polish. But Hatshepsut was a powerful and successful woman. She married one of her half brothers, Thutmose II, and helped rule Egypt as his ‘Great Royal Wife’. When her husband died, Hatshepsut was named regent for her step-son, who was still a young child. She took the throne herself after a message from the gods sanctioned her right to rule, and decided to wear the complete regalia of a male pharaoh, including a false beard, possibly to gain respect from the powerful priesthood. Hatshepsut ruled for 22 years, longer than any female ruler before or after her, and left behind a remarkable record of buildings and sculptures, including her mortuary tomb Djeser-Djeseru, a marvel of architecture.
During her reign she took on a challenge and commissioned the building of sea-faring boat which sailed down the Red Sea to the port of Punt, a wealthy trading city, which has been left to legend as its actual location has been lost to our knowledge.
Tomb art depicts this fantastic adventure, dated to 1,480 B.C. “From her own account of things as recorder in her temple it appears Hapshetsut consulted her gods and was told to follow in the footsteps of her ancestors and re-establish old trading associations that had fallen into the hands of middle men.” (more)
But like many women of power, Hatshepsut was also surrounded in controversy. Her successor and stepson, Thutmose III, tried to erase her image from the Egyptian mind by chiseling her name and symbol off everything. And then he moved her from her impressive tomb at Deir el-Bahri (Valley of the Kings) to an obscure tomb with a mummified nurse for company. Her ‘mummy’ now lies in the Cairo Museum.