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Ancient Egypt: Early ship construction

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Early ship construction: Khufu's solar boat

mortises and tenons Planks with mortises, tenons and V-shaped holes

    In modern ship construction a skeleton is built first which is then covered with a skin. During the Old and Middle Kingdoms ships were built from the outside in. This way of doing things was mostly due to a lack of timber suitable for keels, but continued for centuries after they began importing cedar wood from Byblos which was long enough for keels.

    Mortises were cut into the planks into which wooden tenons were inserted. The V-shaped holes did not penetrate the outer surface.

shipconstruction Joining

    The irregularly shaped planks were butted together in puzzle fashion until the whole skin was constructed. Because of the need to cut mortises the hull was much thicker than it would have been, had it been built around a skeleton.
    A special problem facing the shipwrights must have been the bending of such thick planks (5 centimetres or more) into the appropriate shape.

ropes Caulking

    For caulking plant matter such as reeds was used, which was covered and held in place by rounded battens, which were held in place by ropes drawn through holes carved into the planks.
    These ropes also kept the whole ship together.

ropes Reinforcing the structure

    To prevent deformation and collapse of the vessel, ribs and crossbeams were added. Large-sized ships had to be reinforced in the longitudinal direction as well. In the absence of a keel the flat bottom could warp. A thick rope was tied under tension from stern to bow and provided the necessary rigidity. Khufu's solar boat was strengthened by two girders which ran along either side of the deck and were lashed to the crossbeams.

The reconstructed boat of Khufu

    Discovered in the 1950's near the Khufu pyramid, the dismantled boat was put back together again. No metal parts were ever used. It consists wholly of wood and is held together by rope. (The rope used in the reassembling the ancient wooden parts is, of course, modern.)

khufu's solar boat khufu's solar boat khufu's solar boat khufu's solar boat khufu's solar boat khufu's solar boat


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Offsite links(Opening in a new window)
These are just suggestions for further reading. I do not assume any responsibility for the content of these sites


-Die Grosse Pyramide des Königs Cheops in Giza - Die Bootsgruben I
-Die Grosse Pyramide des Königs Cheops in Giza - Die Bootsgruben II
-Die Grosse Pyramide des Königs Cheops in Giza - Die Bootsgruben III
-A picture of Khufu's solar boat
-A picture of Khufu's solar boat
-Pharaoh's solar boat (PBS site)

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© January 2001

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