Archaeologists digging near one of Egypt’s oldest cities have unearthed a rare and exciting find. While excavating the tomb of the 12th-dynasty pharaoh Senwosret III near Abydos, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania unearthed the ruins of a massive “boat tomb” typical of royal burials at the time. The shape of the tomb and several heavily decomposed pieces of wood found at the site suggest that the ruler’s own ship might have been buried at the site, but is believed to have been looted for its lumber sometime in the distant past. Current estimates put the date of the tomb’s construction to around 1250 B.C.
The boats within the tomb are thought to have been constructed during Egypt’s 12th dynasty, a time when fleets of Egyptian ships traversed waters throughout the region. Echoing this reliance on naval technology, the walls of the tomb surrounding the boat were painted with hundreds of images of ships, fleets, and various maritime activity.
In an article published in The International Journal of Maritime Archaeology, lead researcher Joseph Wagner writes that these drawings are quite diverse and offer a unique glimpse into Royal Egyptian maritime culture at the time:
The boat images range significantly in size and complexity. At the upper end of the variation are large, well-rendered boats depicted with masts, sails, rigging, deckhouses/cabins, rudders, oars, and in some cases rowers. At the lower end of the range are highly simplified boats, schematically rendered as one or two curving lines depicting a hull, surmounted by a schematized rectangular deckhouse, but devoid of other details.
The tomb also contains a fleet of smaller boats arranged just outside of the pharaoh’s burial chamber. The boats were likely used in Senwosret III's funeral procession, bringing his body down the Nile before being entombed along with him in his final resting place.
It is believed that this type of burial rite was performed to ensure that deceased royals would have a fleet capable of ferrying them on their journey into the afterlife.