Ancient “Solar Boat” Unearthed At Pyramids


Excavating a “Solar Boat”

Photograph by Khalil Hamra, AP

For the first time in centuries, a multi-ton limestone slab—one of dozens—floats free of the “tomb” of a 4,500-year-old, disassembled “solar boat” at the foot of the Great Pyramids in Giza (map)Egypt, on Thursday.

Below are hundreds of delicate wooden “puzzle pieces,” protected by the climate-controlled tent built over the site in 2008.

Once the months-long process of extracting the pieces is finished, researchers expect to spend several years restoring the ship before placing it on display in Giza’s Solar Boat Museum near the Pyramids. A similar ship found nearby has already been reconstructed and is on display in the museum. At about 140 feet (43 meters) long, the restored ship is thought to be a bit bigger than its still fragmented sister.

Solar boats played an important role in story of the afterlife in ancient Egyptian mythology. Each night the sun god Ra—in the form of the evening sun, Ra-Atum—was thought to sail through the afterlife in one boat to battle gods and beasts until he rose as the morning sun, Ra-Horakhty, and sailed his day boat across the sky.

Buried near the Great Pyramid, the buried sister boats were likely intended to assist Pharaoh Khufu on similar journeys during the afterlife.

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—With reporting by Andrew Bossone

Egypt boat picture: reconstructed solar boat at Giza museum

Finished Product

Photograph by Amr Nabil, AP

At Egypt’s Solar Boat Museum in 2008, tourists surround the reassembled boat long ago excavated from the sands near the Great Pyramid. The second solar boat, whose excavation began Thursday, will eventually take the place of the first, which is to be moved to the Grand Egyptian Museum being built at Giza.(Related: “Underwater Museum Planned for Egypt’s Alexandria.”)

For years the second solar boat had been considered too fragile uncover. But now the time is right, experts say.

“What really changed is that, if it’s fragile, we have to save it now,” Hawass said.

A series of tests over the last few years showed that the 2008 installation of equipment to maintain the temperature and humidity of its burial pit would protect the Lebanese cedar beams and planks enough to excavate them safely.

Egyptian and Japanese archaeologists are now examining the wood, but the head of the Japanese team declined to explain the process.

“This is very secret,” said project leader Sakuji Yoshimura of Japan’s Waseda University. “It’s never been touched, so it must be examined scientifically.”

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Egypt boat picture: solar boat on temple wall

Sailing With the Sun

Photograph by Kenneth Garrett, National Geographic

Etchings on a temple wall in Abydos, Egypt, depict a mythical solar boat borne aloft at dawn (file picture). Depictions such as these likely inspired the designs of the ships found buried by the Great Pyramid at Giza.

The oars on the life-size boats probably represented a weapon Ra used, according to Hawass, also a National Geographic explorer-in-residence. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)

Though some have speculated that the entombed Giza boats were used in Pharaoh Khufu’s Nile River funeral procession, Hawass said the boat never would have touched the water, since it lacks sails.


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One Response

  1. Bob Spittler says:

    When I was in Egypt, I saw the 128 foot “solar boat” said to have been excavated only weeks before……if you take careful measurements of the craft, you would determine that it would be capable of carrying a 300 ton stone ….just barely…..along the Nile. Supposedly it was vessels such as this that transported the stennite stones 300 miles down the Nile to the site where they were muscled up into the Pyramids during construction.

    Why are the Japs involved in this? They’ve got a nuclear blow out to deal with right back in their own country so why don’t they butt out and let Egyptians research Egyptian artifacts? They are vastly better qualified.

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