Sunday, March 8, 2009

Ancient Mariners: The Egyptians

Cool article! Maritime Archaeologist at Helm of Modern Journey to Ancient Egyptian Land March 4, 2009 ( -- Ancient Egyptians may be best known for building pyramids, but internationally renowned maritime archaeologist Cheryl Ward wants the world to know that they were pretty good sailors, too. She ought to know. Ward, an associate professor of anthropology at The Florida State University, and an international team of archaeologists, shipwrights and sailors recently built a full-scale replica of a 3,800-year-old ship and sailed it on the Red Sea to re-create a voyage to a place the ancient Egyptians called God’s Land, or Punt. Their expedition was financed and filmed as part of a French documentary that will air internationally and on an upcoming episode of “Nova.” “This project has demonstrated the extraordinary capability of the Egyptians at sea,” Ward said. “Many people, including my fellow archaeologists, think of the Egyptians as tied to the Nile River and lacking in the ability to go to sea. For 25 years, my research has been dedicated to showing the scope of their ability and now, to proving their independently invented approach to ship construction worked magnificently at sea.” The project grew out of the 2006 discovery of the oldest remains of seafaring ships in the world in manmade caves at Wadi Gawasis, on the edge of the Egyptian desert. The Egyptians used the site to assemble and disassemble ships built of cedar planks and to store the planks, stone anchors and coils of rope until the next expedition -- one that obviously never came. Civil unrest and political instability after the Middle Kingdom period (2040-1640 BC) likely put a halt to further exploration, and the caves were long forgotten, Ward said. Ward, who serves as principal investigator for maritime archaeology at Wadi Gawasis, determined that the wooden planks found in the caves were nearly 4,000 years old. Based on the shipworms that had tunneled into the planks, she hypothesized that the ships had weathered a long voyage of up to six months, likely to the fabled southern Red Sea trading center of Punt. Scholars had long known that Egyptians traveled to Punt, but they debated its exact location and whether the Egyptians reached Punt by land or by sea. Some had thought the ancient Egyptians did not have the naval technology to travel long distances by sea, but the findings at Wadi Gawasis confirmed that Egyptians sailed a 2,000-mile round trip voyage to Punt, located in what is today Ethiopia or Yemen, Ward said.

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