In 1954, archaeologists were stunned to find a virtually intact, complete boat sealed inside a pit near the southern face of the Kheops Pyramid in Egypt. Known as the Great Boat of Khufu, this incredible relic was believed to have been employed by the pharaoh himself to make pilgrimages from the old capital of Memphis to his royal tomb at Gizeh.
The 144-foot, one of the oldest planked vessels in the world, has revolutionized our understanding of ancient Egyptian shipbuilding. Now, archaeologists have announced that they’ve completed the excavations and exhumation of all artifacts for a Second Kufu Ship, which was found in another pit close to the same great Kheops Pyramid.
The Khufu ships are known as solar boats due to one early theory that the great Egyptian pharaoh Khufu would have used them as part of his persona as the sun god Re during his daily voyages across the sky. Others believe these boats were constructed as funerary crafts for transporting Khufu’s body on the Nile to the Giza necropolis. To this day, the function of these magnificent boats remains an enigma, but archaeological efforts may shed new light on the matter.
A team of Egyptian and Japanese archaeologists has recently finished extracting and documenting the 1,700 wooden pieces retrieved from 13 layers inside the pit of the second solar boat. So far, 1,343 pieces have already been transferred to the Grand Egyptian Museum, where preparations are underway for assembling the ship and its final restoration work.
Once completed, the boat will go on display next to the First Khufu Solar Ship inside a new building designated for both ships, which is currently under construction at the museum.
The restoration work made possible by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which provided a $3 million grant to Egypt to complete the final restoration works and reassemble the ship, in addition to the $2 million grant that was provided in 2013 for the excavations and extraction of the wooden pieces of the ship.
Already, the second solar boat of Khufu is providing remarkable insights into the shipbuilding practices from more than 4,500 years ago. For instance, wood planks recovered from this boat showed for the first time that ancient Egyptians used metal in their ships. In 2016, archaeologists discovered circular and U-shaped metal hooks, whose most likely purpose was “to place the paddles to prevent friction of wood against wood”, said Sakuji Yoshimura, an Egyptologist from Japan.
The first solar ship of Khufu was truly massive, measuring 3.6 meters (143 ft.) long and 5.9 meters (19.5 ft.) wide. The masterpiece was likely adorned with gold artifacts and intricate ornaments, a ship fit for a pharaoh — a god among men.