Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Day 4: The Solar Barque

Back in the bus for a quick jaunt to the back side of the Great Pyramid!


The hole there is where somebody tried unsuccessfully to break in.

Here we had to choose: whether to go into the pyramid or see the Cheops Boat. Dad and I decided that 1) we had no intention of walking down a steep 100-yard slope bent over halfway, and 2) we were really interested in the boat already.

This boat was found in the 50s, disassembled into maybe 2000 pieces and buried in a huge pit out behind the Great Pyramid. The pit was sealed with huge slabs of limestone.


Archaeologists think this boat may have been used to bring the king's mummy across the Nile for burial, but it is probably primarily ceremonial: the king was associated with the sun god, so he needs the boat for his soul to journey on its path across the daytime sky.

Some years later, excavators ran across another pit. Since they had better technology by this time, they pumped in a blanket of nitrogen, then ran in an endoscopic camera, and said "Holy cow, it's another boat!" In a lot of art, these boats come in pairs, one for the daytime and one for the night, so that makes sense. They resealed the second pit, leaving its boat in situ.

The excavator who found this boat then spent 20 years putting it back together piece by piece. All the pieces were there - it was like a boat kit.

The Egyptians built a museum to display the solar barque (boat). The ground floor is right over the pit, and there are also models of how the boat is built. The construction is pretty cool - the entire thing is held together with ropes, almost like it was sewn together:


The reassembled boat is on the upper level. This is one of the best designed museums I've seen to display such a large object. You climb a staircase and circle to the right of the boat, looking up at it:



then climb a little more and go around the other side more or less at its level:

IMG_0460 cairo

(by the way, note the big steering oars at the back - the one on the right is the only wooden part that rotted or something and had to be replaced. You can just see the original oar on the platform below.)


then go up more stairs at the other end to see it full on:

IMG_0463 cairo

It's utterly beautiful, and it's maybe 4400 years old.

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