King Khufu’s ship 4600 years later

pyramids of giza facts

King Khufu’s ship 4600 years later

In its series of honors and celebrations, Google Doodle set aside May 28th, 2019, as the day to celebrate the Khufu Ship discovery that happened way back in 1954. The Khufu ship is an ancient Egyptian King’s full-size vessel that was buried in a pit within the Giza pyramid complex around 2500 BCE. Pharaoh Khufu’s 4600 years old vessel that was discovered by archaeologist Kamal el-Mallak can now be viewed in a custom-built Giza Solar Boat Museum just beside the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Image:, @Rosell Williams 

Measuring 43.6 meters long, and 5.9 meters wide, Khufu’s ship is regarded among the largest, oldest and best-preserved archeological vessels. And, although, there is little evidence pointing to the exact purpose of the boat, historians tentatively believe it was part of Khufu’s grave goods since he was also buried there.

The ancient relic was designed so well that it could still sail if floated on the Nile waters today. Marveling experts described it as a “masterpiece of woodcraft,” although, looking at the object’s ultimate structure, it doesn’t look like one that was intended for sailing or paddling.

Giza Solar Boat Museum quick facts 

• Country or location: Egypt 

• Year of construction: 1985 

• Purpose: To display the modern Khufu solar ship 

• Address: Nazlet El-Semman, Al Haram, Giza Governorate, Egypt 

• Hours: Closes at 4 PM 

The 3rd and 4th dynasties of the old Egyptian Kingdom presided over a period of immense economic and political stability. Religiously, Kings were held in high regard and approached with reverence because society believed that they were endowed with a divine anointing to mediate between the gods and their human subjects. 

Because of this, everyone determined to uphold the king’s majesty even when they lay in state. 

What was the Khufu ship used for? 

Khufu, also known as Cheops among the Greeks, was the 2nd pharaoh of the 4th dynasty, and he ruled 2500 years before Jesus Christ. His ship is sometimes referred to as the “solar barge” because it is believed that its inclusion in the pharaoh’s burial chamber was meant to enable him to navigate across the skies with Ra, the sun god.

The Giza Solar Boat Museum website corroborates this assertion by writing, 

“Ancient Egyptians used to bury a ‘solar barge’ near the tomb of their pharaoh because they believed that their ruler needed transportation in the afterlife.” 

The grand discovery 

As he dug and foraged for relics of ancient civilization, Kamal el-Mallak, came across blocks of stone that were covering a pit – like underground structure. Therein was a careful pile of cedar-wood planks, ropes, and other accessories that were apparent remains of a collapsed formation.  

The ship, which was primarily built from Lebanon cedar, had several planks at the bottom with no actual keel. The planks and frames were fastened with Halfah grass, and they lay in a disassembled but logical order in the pit right beside the pyramid.  

Unfortunately, for the experts, there was no manual to guide them reconstruct the ship according to the Egyptian architectural template. 

But a discovery of this magnitude demanded that they do anything within their training and talent to restore the structure. Therefore, the team went back to the drawing board in a frantic effort to learn shipbuilding from scratch.

And hard work pays! 

After over ten years, they managed to meticulously piece together 1224 individual planks of wood into a 44-meter longship.

Where is King Khufu’s ship today? 

Research and reconstruction 

The painstaking work of re-assembling the ship was mainly spearheaded by Ahmed Youssef Moustafa, the Egyptian Department of Antiquities’ chief restorer. 

Before embarking on the mission, Ahmed had to get in sync with the ancient Egyptian boat construction skills. This was no mean undertaking because he needed to go out of his way to gather information about an art that had laid extinct for several millennia. He, therefore, took the time to study the relief carvings on the tombs and walls and also gleaned upon them for information that included the little wooden boats and ships that were found in caves and other places.

The research extended to the Nile boatyards of old Cairo and Alexandria, where he gathered ideas from those who were still crafting wooden riverboats. The archeologist made these and other research tours in the hope that the present Egyptian shipwrights might have preserved some shipbuilding ideas that would point to how ancient Egyptians did their craft.

Today, the ship rests in a sizable modern sanctuary called the Khufu Boat Museum beside the great pyramid. Once you reach the first floor, you will have the privilege of going through photographs, visuals, and writing regarding the entire exaction and restoration process. The pit where the boat was discovered is also featured in the museum ground floor design, but to see the new boat, you must take a staircase leading to the second floor.

It has been here for public viewing since 1982 and Zahi Hawass, in his documentary, Egypt’s Ten Greatest Discoveries reckons it as one of Egypt’s most significant discoveries

What was the real purpose of a pyramid? 

Egyptian pyramids are a phenomenon that came into being when the country was among if not the wealthiest and most influential civilizations on earth. By any standards, these landmarks feature among the most magnificent and spectacular human-made structures in architectural history. Their colossal nature speaks volumes just how unique and revered the pharaoh was in the ancient Egyptian society.

It was believed that after his death, the pharaoh became Osiris, the god of the dead, while his successor became Horus, the falcon god who served to protect the interests of Ra, the Sun God.

Did you realize that the pyramid’s smooth angled sides represented the sun’s rays and were intended to leverage the king’s soul to ascend and join the heavenly gods, especially Ra, the sun god? 

Well, that was the case.

Back then, the Egyptians upheld the belief that when a king died, a part of his being known as “ka” remained intact in his dead body; and so to sustain this spirit’s sanctuary, they mummified the corpse and provided everything that the pharaoh would need in the next realm. The articles buried with him included furniture, food, gold vessels, and other relevant offerings.

Quick facts about King Khufu

  • Birthplace: Ancient Egypt
  • Death: 2576 BC
  • Parents: Sneferu (father) Hetepheres 1 (mother)
  • Children: Hetepheres II, Djedefre, Khafra, Kawab, Nefertiabet and more
  • Credited to have commissioned the Great Pyramid of Giza,
  • He was the 2nd of the eight 4th dynasty kings.

The Great Pyramid is the largest and oldest of Giza’s three pyramids, and it was built for Khufu, who had succeeded King Sneferu.

Khufu reigned for 23years from 2589 – 2566 BC, but not much is recorded about his reign apart from the splendor and majesty that adorn his pyramid.

The sides of his pyramid’s base are roughly 230 meters with an original height of 147 meters, making it the world’s largest. Next, to the great pyramid are three other small ones built for Khufu’s wives, and a tomb that was discovered nearby had his mother, queen Hetephere’s empty casket.

And, as is the case with the other pyramids, Khufu’s great pyramid is also surrounded by mastabas (Rectangular Egyptian tombs with sloping walls and a flat roof) where his relatives and officials were buried to remain at his service in the next life.

The pyramid’s waning glory

Following the gradual decline in the power, wealth, and influence of the Egyptian pharaohs, the overall quality and scale of the pyramid architecture went down considerably. Today, most of them exist in the pale shadows of their former glory, all this primarily attributed to nocturnal activities by tomb robbers and related vandals. Most pyramids have been stripped of their beautiful limestone covering, and others no longer command their original height. Khufu’s structure, for instance, only stands at 450 feet high, but in spite of the constant tales of woe and neglect, millions of tourists still throng and mill around the spectacular landmark that is King Khufu’s village in the afterlife.