Biblical Archaeology Review 18:3, May/June 1992


Biblical Archaeology Review

Ancient Fleet Found in Egyptian Desert

Twelve large wooden boats have emerged from the desert in an archaeological excavation at Abydos, eight miles from the Nile River in southern Egypt. Estimated to be 50 to 60 feet long, the vessels date between 3000 and 2700 B.C., the time of the Ist and IInd Dynasties of pharaohs.

The excavation, co-directed by David O’Connor of The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, and by William Kelly Simpson of Yale University, found the boats in a 185-foot-long row of boat-shaped graves. Each grave, built of mudbrick in the outline of a boat, held one vessel. After each boat was put into its grave, a pottery offering was placed within it, and then the boat and the grave were filled solid with mudbrick or sand. Finally, the top of the grave was plastered over, completely encasing the boat.

The row of boat graves lies close to a series of brick-walled enclosures containing the funerary cult buildings of several Ist and IInd Dynasty pharaohs, who are buried about a quarter mile away from the enclosures. According to Dr. O’Connor, the boats were buried near the funerary enclosures so as to serve the dead pharaohs whose cults were celebrated there. Egyptian boat burials have also been found at Saqqara, at Helwan, and by the famous pyramids at Giza, but the boat burials at Abydos preceded them all.

Later this year, the Abydos expedition will continue to investigate the boat graves and will extend the area of their excavations to see whether additional boats or other monuments can be found.

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