A joint Japanese and Egyptian team began on Tuesday the work of removing a 4,500 year old pharaonic boat from the pit on the Giza pyramid plateau where it is buried.
Restorers removed a wooden beam, part of a boat built for King Khufu which was buried in approximately 2,500 BC. The boat was discovered in 1954 along with another identical boat in a separate pit; the latter was removed and restored, and is now on display in a purpose-built museum on the site.
The beam is the first of several which will be removed for restoration.
Since 2009, the boat's wooden beams inside the pit have been subjected to laboratory analysis to determine the types of fungi, insects and viruses that are affecting the boat, as well as the amount of deterioration that has taken place, so that an appropriate method can be selected to restore it and place it on display beside the other boat, known as the Khufu ship.
"The lifting of the beams is the third phase of a long restoration project carried out by an Egyptian and Japanese scientific and archaeological team from Waseda University, in collaboration with the Japanese government," said Ahmed Eissa, minister of state for antiquities.
He explained that the cedar beams of the boat will be removed and restored in a special laboratory constructed at the site, and when all the beams are restored, Khufu's second solar boat is to be reconstructed and put beside its twin at the entrance to the Grand Egyptian Museum which is being built overlooking the Giza plateau.
Eissa said that over the last five years the team had cleaned the pit of insects, but found that water had leaked from the nearby museum which housed the first boat. This had affected a small section of the wood, hence the necessity to finish the studies quickly and restore the wood.
The Japanese team inserted a camera through a hole in the chamber's limestone ceiling to transmit video images of the boat onto a small television monitor on the site.
Images screened showed layers of wooden beams and timbers of cedar and acacia, as well as ropes, mats and the remains of limestone blocks and small pieces of white plaster. The camera allowed an assessment of the boat's condition and the possibility of restoration.
A large hangar has been constructed over the area surrounding the second boat pit, with a smaller hangar inside to cover the top of the boat itself. The structures were put in place to protect the wooden remains during analysis and treatment. A laser scanning survey also analysed the area and the wall between the Great Pyramid and the boat pit.
The second was discovered along with the first one in 1954 in a different pit, when Egyptian architect and archaeologist Kamal El-Malakh along with Zaki Nour was carrying out routine cleaning on the south side of the Great Pyramid.
The first boat was removed piece by piece under the supervision of master restorer Ahmed Youssef, who spent more than 20 years restoring and reassembling the boat.
The second boat remained sealed in its pit up until 1987, when it was examined by the American National Geographic Society in association with the Egyptian office for historical monuments. The excavators bored a hole into the limestone beams that covered it and inserted a micro camera and measuring equipment. The void space over the boat was photographed and air measurements taken, after which the pit was resealed.