Ancient Origins Iraq tour

The funeral rites of a mummy on the Nile, by Frederic Arthur Bridgman (1876–77). Speed Art Museum, Louisville (Public Domain)

The Dead Below Deck: Funerary Boat Customs

Archaeologists discovered a 5,000-year-old Egyptian funerary boat, measuring 60 feet (18 meters), that was so well preserved that it still had intact plant fibers attached to it, in 2016.  Found near the pyramids in Abusir, the interesting thing is that it was found in a tomb and not in an area where water once existed.  Obviously, there is controversy surrounding the dates of some Egyptian monuments, and authors like Graham Hancock have speculated that some of them date to later than 12,000 BC, when the area was not an arid desert but a fertile landscape with water and trees, but in this particular case, the boat was positively dated. 

The Abusir boat (Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities)

Egyptian Funeral Barges

This particular find demonstrates something unusual, that the use of boats in Egypt in conjunction with funerals was widespread, and such boats were not just reserved for royalty.  That leads to an interesting question: Why do boats play an important role in funerary practices?  Egyptologists claim ignorance, but during the Old Kingdom Period, pharaohs requested that several boats be buried in or near their tombs, indicating that this practice was not just commonplace, but extremely important. Another tomb near King Khufu’s pyramid housed a 144-foot-long (44 meters) boat, and there are countless other examples. 

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