The Khufu Boat

Boats - I

I shall begin this journey with photographs of the boat of Khufu, circa 2600 BC. Although three empty boat pits were known previously, a fourth pit was found in 1954. Under limestone blocks and plaster, a dismantled boat was located, with the wood and ropes for rigging and matting all well preserved. A large building was constructed to house the discovery after removal from the pit. The reassembly took more than 10 years and the boat is exhibited in its entirety near the pyramid of Khufu. In 1987 drill holes revealed another boat. In this fifth boat pit a video camera lowered into the space showed another boat preserved under thick limestone slabs.

Here is a picture of a model of the Khufu boat.

I give credit here to Mary Ann Sullivan, 2001. She states:

I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. (I would appreciate being told if you find them useful.) They are not available for commercial purposes without my explicit permission.

This boat resembles paintings and models of boats that have survived since the Fourth Dynasty. The evidence suggests that this boat was actually used in the water; and since the boat had to be dismantled to fit in the boat pit, one might assume the pit was not built for this specific boat. Christine Hobson says that "the boat had been functional, but its unwieldiness suggests it was not for traveling long distances. It may have been used as a state boat during the king's lifetime." Refer to The World of the Pharaohs: A Complete Guide to Ancient Egypt, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1987.

The boat is 143 feet long and 19 1/2 feet wide with an estimated displacement of more than 45 tons. Hundreds of pieces of shaped wood comprise the hull which was held together with rope. Since wet wood swells and rope shrinks, the boat would become water tight in water, making caulking unnecessary. The boat had six pairs of long oars, one pair by the stern post serving as rudder oars. The first view is from the bow; the second from the stern.

The closed cabin is paneled and has palm-form capitals. The open canopy (supported by 12 poles) in front of the cabin might have been hung with cloth or mats. The small cabin at the front was probably for the captain and/or pilot's use. The boat is constructed of imported cedar from Lebanon.

For comparison purpose I show a boat from the reign of Sahure about 2450 BC. This boat has a much broader beam. In addition to the 16 rowers and 6 paddles for steering, it has a sail.  A bundle of ropes down the center of the boat is used to give it horizontal strength. A large stone hanging from the bow shows an anchor. This may have been left in the water during movement because of its large mass.

From the figure I estimate the length of the boat at about 65 feet. I estimate the beam between 15 and 18 feet. This boat is markedly different from the Khufu boat. It is much more functional, and does not have the bow and stern rising in decorative motif. In fact, the stern of the boat resembles something we might see from the seventeenth century. We can see why the Khufu boat would be considered unwieldy.