Abydos Boats, the Pharaohs’ afterlife boats that shaped the evolution of boat design

Emmanuel Kwarteng November 24, 2022
Image via Ancient Origins/maritimehistorypodcast.com

As early as the Second Dynasty, ancient Egyptians were making preparations to help the dead, especially kings and emperors, on their journey to the afterlife. It is commonly held that monarchs do not travel to the afterlife alone. They are typically buried together with objects like swords, and occasionally with a human head.

The fact that a boat from more than 5,000 years ago was found in Abydos, one of Egypt’s oldest cities, supports the idea that Khasekhemwy—the last Pharaoh of the Second Dynasty—was buried with the boat so he could use it on his journey through the afterlife.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the Yale University Expedition to Abydos announced in October 2000 that they had found the hull of a wooden boat that was made 5,000 years ago. Fourteen boats, dated to roughly 3000 B.C., have been found there so far, according to reports.

Even though the boats were found near Khasekhemwy’s tomb, researchers think they were put there many years before Khasekhemwy’s tomb was built and were meant for a different pharaoh, possibly from the 1st Dynasty.

Angela M.H. Schuster said that David O’Connor and his team at New York University, who were in charge of excavating the site, first thought that the ships were buried together because they were meant for Khasekhemwy’s tomb. 

But they think the ships were buried hundreds of years before Khasekhemwy’s enclosure was finished. This is based on new information from an analysis of the ship and pottery jars that were found near it. O’Connor thinks that Aha, the first pharaoh of Egypt’s Dynasty, may have had a similar enclosure next to his tomb. This suggests that the fleet was built with the afterlife in mind.

Ships were an important part of daily life in ancient Egypt, and they were also important in the religion and mythology of the country. Due to the Nile’s flow direction, boats were crucial to the movement of people and goods from the south to the north during this civilization. 

The ancient Egyptians also thought that the god Ra used a solar boat to sail around the sky. There are many paintings and sculptures from this ancient culture that show boats and ships, but so far only a few real boats have been found. In light of this, finding the boats in Abydos is a major archaeological achievement. 

However, it is yet to be known if these vessels had been used before they were buried or if they were constructed only for funerary purposes. Still, this is an unusual find because duplicates were usually used at funerals. For instance, reports suggest that Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered to contain 35 model boats.

Abydos boats have been said to be the oldest instances of “constructed boats” that have survived to this day. In contrast to reed boats and dugout logs, these are boats made out of planks that are put together. So, the Abydos boats are also an important step in how boats have changed over time. 

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: November 24, 2022


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