An American congressional delegation visiting Egypt recently was shown in to see the world’s oldest boat, a stunningly sleek and graceful vessel belonging to the Pharaoh Cheops and dating from 2700 B.C. For the occasion, the museum’s ventilation system, entrusted with preserving this priceless treasure, was activated to full capacity—all 16 household fans were turned on, eight on each side of the boat. But they did little more than stir the 100-degree air in the stifling museum baking in the sun beside Cheops’ great pyramid on the Giza plateau. (See illustration)
The congressmen saw the boat, a sensational archaeological discovery in 1954, only by special arrangement with the Egyptian Organization of Antiquities. Although the minister of culture has declared that the museum would at last be ready for visitors this November, long-time Cairo residents are skeptical. “Why, they say that every year,” exclaimed one.
Controversy has swirled around the boat like the Nile eddies it once crossed. Two men claim to have discovered it. One declares that it is a “solar boat” for carrying the soul of the dead king on its eternal journey. Most experts say, however, that it was probably used to carry the body of Cheops from Memphis, where he ruled, to Giza, where he was mummified and laid to rest in his enormous pyramid.