Khufu ship

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The reconstructed "solar barge" of Khufu
Model of the solar barge, from the boat museum.
Model of the solar barge with the deck removed, showing the rope stitching that holds the planks together.

The Khufu ship is an intact full-size vessel from Ancient Egypt that was sealed into a pit in the Giza pyramid complex at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Giza around 2500 BC. The ship now is preserved in the Giza Solar boat museum. The ship was almost certainly built for Khufu (King Cheops), the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Egypt. Like other buried Ancient Egyptian ships, it was apparently part of the extensive grave goods intended for use in the afterlife, and contained no bodies, unlike northern European ship burials.


Picture of discovery place of Solar boat pit covered by stones inside the Solar bark museum.
Solar bark of Kheops. Situation when discovered.
Solar bark of Kheops. Situation when discovered.
Original cord discovered with the Solar boat
Solar Boat pit, Giza Pyramids Plateau, Egypt
One of the boat pits on the east of the Great Pyramid

The Khufu ship is one of the oldest, largest, and best-preserved vessels from antiquity. It measures 43.6 m (143 ft) long and 5.9 m (19.5 ft) wide.

It was thus identified as the worlds oldest intact ship and has been described as "a masterpiece of woodcraft" that could sail today if put into water, lake and river.[1] However, the vessel may not have been designed for sailing (no rigging) or paddling (no room).

The ship was one of two[2] rediscovered in 1954 by Kamal el-Mallakh – undisturbed since it was sealed into a pit carved out of the Giza bedrock. It was built largely of Lebanon cedar planking in the "shell-first" construction technique, using unpegged tenons of Christ's thorn. The ship was built with a flat bottom composed of several planks, but no actual keel, with the planks and frames lashed together with Halfah grass, and has been reconstructed from 1,224 pieces which had been laid in a logical, disassembled order in the pit beside the pyramid.[3]


It took years for the boat to be painstakingly reassembled, primarily by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities' chief restorer, Ahmed Youssef Moustafa (later known as Haj Ahmed Youssef).[4] Before reconstructing the boat, he had to gain enough experience on Ancient Egyptian boat-building. He studied the reliefs carved on walls and tombs, and many of the little wooden models of ships and boats found in tombs. Haj Ahmed visited the Nile boatyards of Old Cairo and Ma'adi and went to Alexandria, where wooden river boats were still being made. He hoped that modern Egyptian shipwrights might have retained ship building methods that would suggest how Ancient Egyptians built their ships. Then he investigated the work of shipwrights who built in a different tradition.[5]


The history and function of the ship are not precisely known. It is of the type known as a "solar barge", a ritual vessel to carry the resurrected king with the sun god Ra across the heavens. However, it bears some signs of having been used in water, and it is possible that the ship was either a funerary "barge" used to carry the king's embalmed body from Memphis to Giza, or even that Khufu himself used it as a "pilgrimage ship" to visit holy places and that it was then buried for him to use in the afterlife.

The Khufu ship has been on display to the public in a specially built museum at the Giza pyramid complex since 1982. Its discovery was described as one of the greatest Ancient Egyptian discoveries in Zahi Hawass's documentary Egypt's Ten Greatest Discoveries.

The ship is housed in The Khufu Boat Museum, a small modern facility resting alongside the Great Pyramid. The first floor of the museum takes the visitor through visuals, photographs and writings on the process of excavating and restoring the felucca. The ditch where the main felucca was found is incorporated into the museum ground floor design. To see the restored felucca, the visitor must climb a staircase leading to the second floor. Floor to ceiling windows allow for much sunlight and the wooden walkway takes the visitor around the felucca where the visitor can get a close view of its impressive size- 143 feet long (44m) and 19.5 feet wide (6m).[6]

Other solar ships in Egypt[edit]

Several boat pits were found in Ancient Egyptian sites.[7]

Abu Gorab[edit]

Nyuserre's Sun Temple Plan showing the ship pit at the lower left part .

A few hundred meters to the north of Abusir, about six miles southwest of Cairo is the sun temple known as Abu Gorab. There lies the ruins of Niuserre's temple, Outside the temple proper and near its southern side, the German expedition also discovered a large building in the shape of a boat. This was a pit, lined with mud bricks which was at one time plastered, whitewashed and colored. This structure was augmented with several other elements made from different materials such as wood. This structure is believed to have been purely symbolic, representing a "solar boat" in which the sun god was supposed to have floated across the heavenly ocean.[8][9][10] (The pit might have contained a boat)

Abu Rawash[edit]

Abo Rawash Pyramid Boat Pit

Two boats were discovered at Abu Rawash hill M.[11] (2 boats or Ships)[12] At the complex of Djedefre, Emile Chassinat, between 1900 and 1902, discovered the remains of a funerary settlement and a boat pit[13][14] The solar boat pit is situated on the east side of the pyramid. It is a ditch 35 meters long cut out of the living limestone. It is destined for the royal boat. The beautiful heads carved into the likeness of Djedefre were found there.[15]


Neferirkare's pyramid at Abusir was the largest structure in the region. Large wooden boats were buried outside the pyramid in its courtyard on the north and south sides. Archaeologists discovered them by their mention in a cache of papyrus found within the mortuary temple, but unfortunately, when they excavated the southern boat pit, only dust remained of the boat itself.[16]


In 1991 in the desert near the temple of Khentyamentiu near Abydos, archaeologists uncovered the remains of the 14 ships dating back to the early first dynasty (2950-2775 BC), possibly associated with Hor-Aha. These 75-foot-long (23 m) ships are buried side by side and have wooden hulls, rough stone boulders which were used as anchors, and "sewn" wooden planks. Also found within their desert graves were remains of the woven straps that joined the planks, as well as reed bundles that were used to seal seams between planks. The Abydos ships have the honor of being the world’s oldest planked boats.[12][17] Abydos had at least a dozen boat graves[18] adjacent to a massive funerary enclosure for the late Dynasty II (ca. 2675 B.C.) Pharaoh Khasekhemwy.[19][20] Their age should be more than 400 years older than Khufu's (Cheops)[11] Ships were 25 meters long, 2.5 meters wide and about 0.5 meters deep, seating about 30 rowers. They had narrowing sterns and prows and they were painted.[21] They are in meaning and function the direct ancestors of the boat recovered at Khufu's Great Pyramid at Giza[20][22] The ships are possibly associated with King Aha, the first ruler of that dynasty.[23] The length of the structures varied from nearly 20 to 27m.[24]

These are the world's most ancient planked hulls. The traditions of the hull construction seen in all the excavated vessels continued through the end of the sixth century BC and, with the substitution of nails for mortise-and-tenon joints, into the present. An abandoned freighter, stripped of its internal timbers and left on a small branch of the Nile near Mataria (ancient Heliopolis, north of modern Cairo) provides the first instance of pegged mortise-and-tenon joints in an Egyptian hull. Not all joints were through-fastened, and the pegs, or treenails, may also have fastened frames to the hull, but for this marks a dramatic departure from previous shipbuilding techniques.[25]


Sesostris III boats found near his Pyramid in Dahshur, 1895
Illustration of Sesostris III boats found near his Pyramid in Dahshur, 1895

Six boats of Middle Kingdom date were found at Dahshur. They're about 10 m long each.[11] In 1893 Jacques de Morgan discovered six boats near the Middle Kingdom pyramid of Senwosret III at Dashur.[26] He made drawings and measurements of only one boat (the White boat) from the cache at Dahshur.[27]

Excavations conducted in A.D. 1894 and 1895 by French archaeologist Jean-Jacques de Morgan at the funerary complex of Senwosret III on the plain of Dahshur revealed five or six small boats. Today, only four of the "Dahshur boats" can be located with certainty; two are in the United States, one in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh and one in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. The remaining two are on display in The Egyptian Museum, Cairo.[28]

Since their excavation these boats remained relatively inconspicuous until the mid-1980s when one of the hulls in the United States was studied (the boat in Chicago remains largely unpublished). It was not until the 2000s that the two boats in Cairo were studied.[28]

Giza Necropolis[edit]

Main article: Giza Necropolis


Main article: Great Pyramid of Giza

Seven boat pits have been identified around the Great Pyramid. Five of which belong to the Great Pyramid proper. The other 2 are associated with the pyramid of Hetepheres (GIa) and the pyramid of the Ka (GId). Khufu's boat pits are located on the eastern side of the pyramid (3) and the southern side (2).[29] In one of the southern boat pits a disassembled wooden barge was discovered in 1954. It has been reconstructed and resides in the boat shaped museum.[30] In 1987, the western boat pit at the Great Pyramid was examined by a microprobe inserted through a hole drilled into the pit, confirming the presence of a second wooden boat similar to the first. It was originally decided that the second boat should remain in its pit, in conditions which made its preservation near perfect.[26]

The second solar boat of Khufu is being excavated in 2012-2013 and is going to be reconstructed.[31] Sakuji Yoshimura, a Waseda University professor who is leading the restoration project with Egypt's Antiquities Council, said (June 2011) that scientists discovered that this second ship is inscribed with Khufu's name.


Main article: Pyramid of Khafre

Khafre’s pyramid has five pits that once contained funeral boats. One known boat pit is alongside the east face of Khafre’s pyramid[32] Another two of the covered boat pits of Khafre lie on the east side of the pyramid & covered boat pit lies on the south side of the mortuary temple of Khafre.[33]


Unas has two boats.[34]

Archaic boats had been found at Helwan by Z. Saad.[11] (4 Ships)[12] In total 4 or 5 boat burials were found at Helwan, 2 at Abu Roash Hill M, and finally others at the northerly Abydos site of the Royal enclosures, near those just found.[11]

Remains of Old Kingdom boats were found at Tarkhan[35] (at least one boat)[21][36]

A 'model estate' and funerary boat was found at Saqqara by W. Emery (in 1957-8; tomb S 3357).[11] (3 Ships)[12] At least 3 mud-brick boat graves were associated with First Dynasty rulers and high-ranking officials.[22]

Forty timbers were found in excavations near the Pyramid of Senusert I in Lisht. They were identified as part of vessel or vessels.[37]

A mudbrick boat pit has also been found outside Amenemhet’s pyramid perimeter wall.[38]

Excavation of the remains of seagoing ships at Wadi/Mersa Gawasis, south of Safaga on the Egyptian Red Sea coast, in 2004–05 and 2005–06 provides extensive physical evidence for construction techniques, wood selection, and recycling and re-use practices of the ancient Egyptians. Discoveries at Gawasis prove that common Egyptian river-oriented design and construction techniques were successful both on the Nile and at sea.[39][40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Royal Ships of Egyptian Pharaohs
  2. ^ "Egypt Excavates Ancient King's 4,500-Year-Old Ship". Fox News. Associated Press. 23 June 2011. Retrieved 25 June 2011. Archaeologists have begun excavating a 4,500-year-old wooden boat found next to the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of Egypt's main tourist attractions, Egypt's top antiquities official said Thursday. 
  3. ^ Clark, Liesl; Tyson, Peter. "Explore Ancient Egypt". Nova. PBS. Retrieved 28 December 2012. 
  4. ^ Stratos, Anita. "Barques, Barges, and Byblos Boats". Tour Egypt. Retrieved 28 December 2012. 
  5. ^ Jenkins, Nancy (May 26, 1954). "The Smell of Time". Saudi Aramco World. Aramco Services Company. Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  6. ^ Sarman, Danee (March 1, 2010). "Did Pharaohs Get Seasick?: Khufu Boat Museum: Giza, Egypt". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  7. ^ Vinson, Steve (1994). Egyptian boats and ships. Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, UK: Shire Publications. ISBN 0-7478-0222-X. 
  8. ^ "Egypt: The Sun Temple of Niuserre at Abu Ghurab". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Jacques Kinnaer. "The Ancient Egypt Site". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f "Francesco Raffaele Egyptology News". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  12. ^ a b c d Other Solar Boats in Ancient Egypt
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Abu Rawash boat pit
  16. ^ "The Pyramid of Neferirkare". Crystalinks. Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  17. ^ "Egypt: Barques, Barges, and Byblos Boats". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  18. ^ [1] Archived June 30, 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ "Abydos, The Funerary Enclosures". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  20. ^ a b Nordic Underwater Archaeology. "Abydos royal boats". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  21. ^ a b "Ancient Egypt Boat And Ship Building Land Of The Pharoahs Queen Cleopatra Solar Navigator'S Figure Head Sun God Ra Hawks Head Trademark". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  22. ^ a b [2][dead link]
  23. ^ "Ancient Egyptian Boats". 2003-02-27. Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  24. ^ "Abydos Royal Enclosures (Kom es-Sultan) Early Dynastic Egypt period". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  25. ^ "The Promise of Egypt's Maritime Legacy". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  26. ^ a b "Ancient Egypt: Solar Boat, Land Of The Pharoahs, Cleopatra Inspires Solar Navigator Figure Head, Sun God Ra Hawks Head Trademark". 1954-05-26. Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  27. ^ Pearce Paul Creasman 2010. A Further Investigation of the Cairo Dahshur Boats. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 96: 101-124, pl. II.
  28. ^ a b "The Cairo Dahshur Boats, a Digital Exhibit". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  29. ^ "FIGURE 32 Boat pits to the east of Cheop's Pyramid seen from the summit". Lambert Dolphin's Library. Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  30. ^ "Khufu boat pits". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  31. ^ "早稲田大学エジプト学研究所". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  32. ^ "Electromagnetic Sounder Experiments at the Pyramids of Giza". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  33. ^ "Applications of Modern Sensing Techniques to Egyptology". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  34. ^ Hawass, Zahi. "Development Of The Ancient Egyptian Royal Mortuary Complex". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  35. ^ Dollinger, André (February 2, 2009). "Ancient Egypt: Ships and Boats". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  36. ^ [3][dead link]
  37. ^[Ward]%201992%20Lisht.pdf
  38. ^ "el-Lisht Necropolis « Egyptian Monuments". Egypt Sites. February 26, 2009. Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  39. ^ [4][dead link]
  40. ^ [5] Archived June 30, 2010 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading[edit]

  • Nancy Jenkins – The boat beneath the pyramid: King Cheops' royal ship (1980) ISBN 0-03-057061-1
  • Paul Lipke – The royal ship of Cheops: a retrospective account of the discovery, restoration and reconstruction. Based on interviews with Hag Ahmed Youssef Moustafa (Oxford: B.A.R., 1984) ISBN 0-86054-293-9
  • Björn Landström – Ships of the Pharaohs: 4000 Years of Egyptian Shipbuilding (Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1970) Library of Congress Catalog Card number 73-133207

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 29°58′41″N 31°08′04″E / 29.97806°N 31.13444°E / 29.97806; 31.13444