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Ships of the Nile

The colossal monuments that still stand in Egypt today were made possible by an equally impressive innovation—ships.

The ancient Egyptians mastered the skill of boatbuilding from very early on, initially creating rafts made of papyrus reeds bound in bundles.


Later, they built wooden boats for long-distance travel. They used oars to assist with the journey northward along the Nile. Strong winds blowing from the north in the spring and autumn may have caused delays in navigation. The use of a large oar at the stern of the vessel would have enabled some steerage. The journey from north to south would have been made with the sail up, making use of the northerly winds.


While most of the limestone to build the Giza Pyramids was quarried on the Giza plateau, the granite would have probably been shipped on boats along the Nile River.

Though there are many references to ships in Egyptian iconography, there are few known examples of actual ancient ships. On the Giza Plateau, the site of the Great Pyramids, a dismantled ship was discovered in 1954, leading to a rewriting of history on ship construction. Its parts were buried with the Pharaoh Khufu of the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, the builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza, perhaps to sail him into the afterlife.

With just stitches holding the planks together, the Khufu ship was incredibly robust. Though as a funerary barge, it is unsure whether or not the ship was actually used.


Works cited:

Campos, Mauricio Garcia. Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology, https://blogs.brown.edu/joukowsky/.


“Egyptian Ships - Ages of Exploration.” Marinersmuseum.org, 2017, exploration.marinersmuseum.org/watercraft/egyptian-ships/.


“Introduction to Nautical Archaeology Notes - the Royal Ship of Khufu.” Tamu.edu, 2020, nautarch.tamu.edu/class/316/khufu/.


“Ships.” Www.ucl.ac.uk, www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/travel/ships.html.

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