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The Byblos Ship 1: The Beginning

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

So, this is my first attempt to document the process of a modelling project from the beginning of the research. First of all a few things about the idea and the available sources.

Sahure was the second Pharaoh of the 5th Dynasty during ancient Egypt’s Old Kingdom. His reign lasted for a bit more than 13 years during the 25th century BC, though sources disagree on the exact years.

He is often recognized as the founder of the Egyptian navy, since his missions to Byblos and Punt would definitely require seagoing ships, much larger and sturdier than the boats used in the calm waters of the Nile. His pyramid is decorated with such seagoing vessels, though several older depictions of such ships have been discovered in earlier graves. We know, after all, that Egypt has seaports (and thus seagoing ships) far earlier, at least since the time of Khufu.

The important difference is that the ship reliefs in Sahure’s burial complex are of great detail and depict interesting construction elements that are characteristic of Egyptian shipbuilding, making them ideal subjects for a wooden model. The depictions seems to have been carefully carved and are detailed enough to allow a reconstruction in scale.

They are only lacking, as is to be expected from one-dimensional depictions, in providing information on the actual construction methods of the hull. Luckily the void is filled by another archaeological discovery. An actual wooden ship was discovered buried near the pyramid of Khufu. The Khufu Solar Ship was placed there to carry the dead Pharaoh in the next world. It was buried entire and the wood has survived the ages and it’s construction has been well analysed and documented.

Even though its role is ritualistic, its construction was strong and it could have been used as an actual ship before the Pharaoh’s death (though this cannot be proven). It is definitely in no way just the effigy of a ship.

The Khufu vessel has, of course, some important difference from the ship I want to build:

1. It is somewhat older, as Khufu belongs to the 4th Dynasty and the 26th century.

2. It was a river barge and not a seagoing vessel.

3. It carried no sail.

It can still provide important information on shipbuilding techniques of that time, as I will describe in the following posts.

My research on reconstructing the seagoing ship from Sahure’s burial complex will be based on the following sources:

Landström, Björn. Ships of the Pharaohs: 4000 Years of Egytpian Shipbuilding. Doubleday, 1970.

Wachsmann, Shelley, and George F. Bass. Seagoing ships & seamanship In the Bronze Age Levant. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2009.

Mark, Samuel. (2009). The Construction of the Khufu I Vessel (c.2566 BC): a Re‐Evaluation. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. 38. 133 - 152. 10.1111/j.1095-9270.2008.00212.x.

Mark, Samuel. (2013). Graphical Reconstruction and Comparison of Royal Boat Iconography from the Causeway of the Egyptian King Sahure (c.2487–2475 BC). International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. 42. 10.1111/1095-9270.12015.

Veldmeijer, André J.; Zazzaro, Chiara; Clapham, Alan J.; Cartwright, Caroline R.; Hagen, Fredrik (2008). The "Rope Cave" at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt. American Research Center in Egypt. 44: 9–39.

Faulkner, R. O. (1941). Egyptian Seagoing Ships. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. 26: 3–9.

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