Khufu’s second solar boat revealed

Nevine El-Aref , Thursday 23 Jun 2011

Buried for 4,500 years, King Khufu’s second solar boat, designed to ferry him to the afterlife, has been uncovered

Hawass during the conference- photo by Sherif Sonbol

Today, hundreds of foreign and Egyptian journalists along with photographers, cameramen and TV presenters flocked to the Giza Plateau, where Minister of State for Antiquities Zahi Hawass, Chargé d’Affaires at the Japanese Embassy to Egypt Masami Kinefuchi, and the chief executive representative of the Nitori Holding Company, Akio Nitori, unveiled King Khufu’s second solar boat.

This boat was first discovered in 1954 by Egyptian architect and archaeologist Kamal El-Malakh with fellow archaeologist Zaki Nour during routine cleaning at the southern side of Khufu’s Great Pyramid. The first pit was found under a roof of 41 limestone slabs. Removing one of these slabs, a cedar boat, completely dismantled but arranged in the semblance of its finished form, was found along with layers of mats, ropes, instruments made of flint and some small pieces of white plaster with 12 oars, 58 poles, three cylindrical columns and five doors.

The boat was removed from the pit to a nearby warehouse where the late master of restorers Ahmed Youssef spent more than 20 years reassembling it. It is now exhibited at the Khufu Solar Boat Museum near to the Great Pyramid. The second solar boat remained sealed in its pit until 1987 when the American National Geographic Society examined it in association with the Egyptian Office for Historical Monuments. The team penetrated the limestone ceiling and inserted a tiny camera ascertain the boat’s status, then sealing the pit again. Unfortunately the hole made leaked air into the pit, allowing insects to thrive inside and damage some part of the boat’s wooden beams.

In collaboration with the Japanese government, a Japanese scientific and archaeological team from Waseda University offered a grant of $10 million to lift the boat out of the pit, restore and reassemble it and exhibit it beside its twin. A joint team made up of staff of the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities, a delegation from Waseda University and the Japanese Institute for Restoration Research embarked on a scientific examination of the boat.

In 2008, the Japanese team from Waseda University led by archaeologist Sakuji Yoshimura inserted a tiny camera through a hole in the chamber’s limestone ceiling to transmit video images of the boat onto a small TV monitor on site in order to re-examine and assess the condition of the boat’s cedar beams and ascertain at the possibility of restoring it. It also make the boat available to Giza Plateau visitors through an LCD screen installed inside a hangar erected at the Plateau.

Today, after the completion of a comprehensive study, the limestone blocks, consisting of 41 panels that have covered the boat pit for 4,500 years, were removed and the boat’s wooden beams extracted one by one to a special warehouse in order to be reassembled as it would have looked in ancient times.

A beaming Hawass told reporters that it is the first time that this technology has been used to look at buried antiquities. Modern technology had also been used to solve other riddles of ancient Egypt, explained Hawass, such as the  "CT scan examination to know the reason for the mysterious death of Tutankhamun, as well as identifying royal mummies, such as that of Queen Hatshepsut, and the diseases they suffered from," he said. He celebrated the application of modern science in the service of ancient history.

Upon completion of the restoration, the boat will be erected near the entrance gate to the Pyramids Plateau, on the Cairo-Fayoum road, Hawass told reporters. The first boat, on the other hand, will be moved from its current site, beside Khufu's Pyramid to the Grand Egyptian Museum, currently under construction.

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