Byblos Ship 12: Deck Objects
Close to the bow of the Byblos ships depicted in ancient reliefs appear a series of mysterious and elusive "deck devices". At least that is what Bjorn Landström calls them, in his book Ships of the Pharaohs. Fact is nobody has the slightest idea what they were.
The issue might be due to loss of information from the ancient depictions. Egyptians carved most of the shapes in stone. Then they used plaster to cover imperfections of the stone, or their own mistakes. Finally they painted finer details on the carving. Of all the above what survives today in most of the cases is just the stone carving, the plaster and paint having long deteriorated.
All that survives of these devices is their basic shapes and the fact that they were tied with thick ropes and probably attached to long poles and/or the foot of the lowered mast.
Landström's assumption is that they were stone weights that would be lifted with levers and attached to the foot of the lowered mast to weigh it down and help raise it, without having to pull the entire weight of the mast with ropes and risk one snapping, since dropping the heavy mast would probably damage the ship.
I was initially a bit skeptical, as carrying heavy stones just to be able to easier raise the mast seemed a bit much. But when viewed in conjunction with ancient wrecks it seems more and more plausible. Most of the wrecks discovered carry an abundance of quite large perforated stones that archaeologists have labelled "anchors". And they might very well be anchors. Ships needed stone ballast anyway and it is well known that to this day ships tend to lose a lot of anchors and spares are always needed. So why not ballast the ship with anchors if they are made of stone? And if you do, you might as well use a couple of the rounder ones to help you safely raise the mast.
Since I liked working with the soapstone to make the anchors, I decided to go with this assumption and build the weights from soapstone too.