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Archaeologists Discover a Resting Place for an Ancient Egyptian Sacred Boat

Archaeologists Discover a Resting Place for an Ancient Egyptian Sacred Boat

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In ancient Egypt, sacred boats called barques were believed to ferry the dead to the afterlife, the sun god Ra across the sky, and various other gods and royalty up and down the Nile River.

Now a barque resting place made of stone blocks from the time of Queen Hatshepsut has been discovered on Elephantine Island and will give scholars some insight on the religion of her time, the Ministry of Antiquities announced on its Facebook page .

The ancient Egyptian barque resting station that was part of a sacred building dating back to the time of Hatshepsut has been discovered on the island in the Nile River at Aswan.

Erased name of queen Hatshepsut.

Erased name of queen Hatshepsut. ( German Archaeological Institute )

The German Archaeological Institute has found a number of blocks upon which the sacred boat would have rested when it was not being used in a procession, said Mahmoud Afify of the ministry.

“According to Dr. Felix Arnold, the field director of the mission, the building served as a way station for the festival barque of the god Khnum,” the ministry’s press release states. “The building was later dismantled and about 30 of its blocks have now been found in the foundations of the Khnum temple of Nectanebo II. Some of the blocks were discovered in previous excavation seasons by members of the Swiss Institute, but the meaning of the blocks has only now become clear.”

Queen Hatshepsut is represented as a woman on some of the blocks, so they must have been carved during the early years of her reign because in later years she was represented as a king, the ministry wrote in the press release. This is one of very few buildings from the early period of her reign to have been discovered so far. The only other buildings dating to the early period of Hatshepsut’s rule were discovered at Karnak. Hatshepsut was in power from 1508 to 1458 BC.

“The newly discovered building thus adds to our knowledge of the early years of Queen Hatshepsut and her engagement in the region of Aswan,” the statement says. “In the reign of Thutmosis III. all mentions of her name were erased and all representations of her female figure were replaced by images of a male king, her deceased husband Thutmosis II.”

Female representation of Hatshepsut (highlighted by red lines) that was later replaced by the image of a male king.

Female representation of Hatshepsut (highlighted by red lines) that was later replaced by the image of a male king. ( German Archaeological Institute )

Experts believe they can reconstruct the building’s appearance based on the blocks found so far. The building would probably have had a chamber lined on all four sides by pillars in which rested the god Khnum’s barque. The pillars bear representations of Khnum and other gods, including Imi-peref, which means “He who is in his house”; and Nebet-menit or “Lady of the mooring post”; and Min-Amun of Nubia.

So, the discoveries add not just to the knowledge of Queen Hatshepsut but also help Egyptologists understand the religious milieu and beliefs on Elephantine Island during Hatshepsut’s reign, the press release states.

The barque station was probably watched over and guarded by priests when the boat was not in procession, says Heritage Daily in an article about the discoveries.

Ruins of the temple of Khnum, southern point of the island of Elephantine.

Ruins of the temple of Khnum, southern point of the island of Elephantine. ( CC BY SA 4.0 )

Barques were used from the beginning of recorded history in Egypt. There are many depictions of them in reliefs and paintings. Ancient Egyptians believed barques were used to transport people to the afterlife, and images of the boats are depicted in many temples and tombs.

Also, the Egyptian god Ra was believed to have traveled in a barque. The Egypt Art Site states :

One legend states that each day, Ra was born and began a journey across the sky. Ra was believed to travel in the Manjet-boat. or the 'Barque of Millions of Years'. He was joined on this daily journey by a crew of many gods. The Manjet-boat would sail through the twelve provinces, representing the twelve hours of daylight. At the end of each day Ra was thought to die and embarked on his night voyage. For this journey he was called Auf, which means 'corpse.' Ra sailed in a boat called the Mesektet-boat or night-barque on his journey through the twelve hours of darkness.

A solar barge on an Ancient Egyptian painted wooden stele of the 26th dynasty of Egypt.

A solar barge on an Ancient Egyptian painted wooden stele of the 26th dynasty of Egypt. ( CC BY SA 2.5 )

The page Reshafim.org has an article titled “Solar Ships and Funerary Boats” that says “Some of the divine vessels belonged wholly in the realm of mythology like the sun barks (msw-nb, skt.t); the bark of the other world qAytt; or the bark of the gods, the smj.w or smA.”

Featured Image: Pillar from the way station erected by Queen Hatshepsut for the god Khnum. Source: German Archaeological Institute

By Mark Miller

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