The secrets of ancient “Solar Boat” unearthed at Khufu pyramid

Over 1,200 pieces were reassembled by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities to restore the ship.
The secrets of ancient "Solar Boat" unearthed at Khufu pyramid 1

In the shadow of the Great Pyramid of Giza stood another pyramid, which was much smaller than its neighbor and has been long lost to history. This forgotten pyramid was found again, hidden beneath centuries of sand and rubble. Hidden deep underground, in a chamber that was once part of the pyramid, archaeologists discovered an ancient ship made almost entirely out of cedar wood. Culturally and historically significant, experts call it the “Solar Boat” because they believe it would have been used as a vessel for the Pharaoh’s final journey into the afterlife.

Khufu First Solar ship (dated: c. 2,566 BC), Discovery site: South of Khufu pyramid, Giza; in 1954 by Kamal el-Mallakh.
The reconstructed “solar barge” of Khufu © Wikimedia Commons

Several full-sized ships or boats were buried near ancient Egyptian pyramids or temples at many sites. The history and function of the ships are not precisely known. They might be 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, some ships bear signs of being used in water, and it is possible that these ships were funerary barges. There are so many fascinating theories behind these ancient ships though.

Solar boat of Kheops. Situation when discovered.
Khufu First Solar ship (dated: c. 2,566 BC) when discovered. Discovery site: South of Khufu pyramid, Giza; in 1954 by Kamal el-Mallakh. © Wikimedia Commons

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 museum.

The painstaking process of reassembling over 1,200 pieces was overseen by Haj Ahmed Youssef, a restorer from the Egyptian Department of Antiquities, who studied models found in ancient tombs as well as visiting modern shipyards along the Nile. Over a decade later after its discovery in 1954, the ingeniously designed vessel, measuring 143 feet long and 19.6 feet wide (44.6m, 6m), was fully restored without using a single nail. © Harvard University
The painstaking process of reassembling over 1,200 pieces was overseen by Haj Ahmed Youssef, a restorer from the Egyptian Department of Antiquities, who studied models found in ancient tombs as well as visiting modern shipyards along the Nile. Over a decade later after its discovery in 1954, the ingeniously designed vessel, measuring 143 feet long and 19.6 feet wide (44.6m, 6m), was fully restored without using a single nail. © Harvard University

It’s one of the best-preserved vessels surviving from antiquity. The ship was on display at the Giza Solar boat museum, lining the monumental Pyramid of Giza, until the it was relocated to the Grand Egyptian Museum in August 2021. Khufu’s ship served as a royal vessel some four millennia ago and was buried in a pit next to the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Made of Lebanon cedarwood, the spectacular ship was built for Khufu, the second Pharaoh of the fourth dynasty. Known in the Greek world as Cheops, little is known for this pharaoh, except that he commissioned the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the world’s seven ancient wonders. He reigned the Old Kingdom of Egypt more than 4,500 years ago.

Original rope discovered with the Khufu ship
Original rope discovered with the Khufu ship. © Wikimedia Commons

The vessel was one of two discovered in an archaeological expedition from 1954 run by the Egyptian archaeologist Kamal el-Mallakh. The ships were deposited in a pit at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Giza sometime around 2,500 BC.

Most experts believe that the ship was built for Pharaoh Khufu. Some say the ship was used to ferry the pharaoh’s body to his final resting place. Others think it was placed in the location to help transport his soul to heaven, similar to “Atet,” the barge that carried Ra, the Egyptian god of the sun across the sky.

While others speculate that the vessel holds the secret of the Pyramids’ construction. Following this argument, the asymmetrical ship was designed to be used as a floating crane capable of lifting large stone blocks. Wear and tear on the wood indicates that the boat had more than a symbolic purpose; and the mystery is still up for debate.

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