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The Solar Boat of Khufu. Source: Ovedc / CC BY-SA 4.0.

4,600-Year-Old Egyptian Solar Boat is Paraded to New Gaza Museum


Designed after the life-sustaining daily cycle of the Sun, the famous “Solar Boat” is one of ancient Egypt’s most iconic depictions of how this culture viewed the afterlife. Now, the famous divine transportation vessel, that represented a Pharaoh’s journey to the afterlife, has itself been transported 7.5 kilometres (5 miles) to Egypt’s much anticipated new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM). 

King Khufu's legendary 4,600-year-old solar boat was built to represent the transportation of the ruler’s soul on its journey in the afterlife. Once completed, it was imbued with magical powers so it could become the actual vessel of the king’s soul journey. 

Egypt’s Tourism and Antiquities Ministry announced last Saturday that this priceless artifact from the Fourth Dynasty had found a new home. Once installed it will have price of place in the long awaited GEM, due to be opened in the next few months. 

Robotic Arms, Solar Winds

King Khufu's solar boat was discovered in 1954 at the southern corner of the Great Pyramid, (Pyramid of Khufu), the largest of the three pyramids at Giza and the one that housed Khufu's tomb. The solar boat is not only the oldest, but also the largest wooden boat ever discovered in ancient Egypt. 

Measuring 42 meters (138 feet) in length, this 20-ton vessel was carved from cedarwood. One of the major concerns for Egyptian authorities, somewhat ironically, was figuring out how to move the ancient vessel.  

King Khufu, entombed in the iconic Great Pyramid of Giza (Osiritkos / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Egyptian ministry explained in their press release that the primary goal of the transportation project was to “protect and preserve the biggest and oldest organic artifact made of wood in the history of humanity for the future generations.” 

It was eventually moved to its new home in Cairo within a secure metal cage, “on a remote-controlled vehicle,” that was custom built for the job in Belgium. According to the BBC, the Egyptian ministry said the relocation operation began late Friday night and that it took “10 hours” to install the iconic ancient artwork in its new home.  

Nothing New Under The Sun?

The Kings of Ancient Egypt were buried within royal burial chambers, and solar boats such as this one were entombed with their ruler, and were thought of as functioning, magically-powered devices that were essential for safely transporting that ruler’s soul in the afterlife. 

While Egyptian rituals were complex and multi-faceted, changing from one Kingdom the next, the solar boat represented the fundamental concept that the King “was” the Sun’s actual divine consort on Earth. The cycle of the Sun, therefore, was a highly visible manifestation of the power of the ruler, without which it was feared new plant, animal and human life couldn’t exist. 

Carving at the Abydos temple of Pharaoh Seti I, depicting Ra-Horakhty and his sacred solar boat (kairoinfo4u / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

While this example of a solar boat was commissioned by a Fourth Dynasty monarch who ruled during the Egyptian “Old Kingdom”, the concept of a “Sun vessel” is not unique to that culture. The idea of a “solar barge” or “Sun boat,” carrying the Sun across the sky appears in many polytheistic religions. 

And what is perhaps “coolest” about ancient solar boats is that, in a quirk of history which Elon Musk would love, they reflect the modern concept of electrically powered transportation, being powered by clean solar energy. 

A New Egyptian Vision

The Grand Egyptian Museum, where the boat is now permanently located alongside many of the ancient king’s artifacts, will be inaugurated later this year after over 17 years in construction. Planned to contain more than 100,000 artifacts when completed, the GEM, which is located just outside of Cairo on the Giza Plateau, is being hailed as “the new crown jewel of Egypt.”  

The Grand Egyptian Museum is due to open by the end of 2021 (AshyCatInc. / CC BY-SA 4.0)

While the GEM might be a jewel in Egypt’s crown, it also represents the largest and most modern museum experience in the world. Thus, this splendid new structure will hold deep appeal and attract history lovers from all over the planet. When it opens it will without doubt become the next “ancient must see,” and you can learn more about the journey of the GEM, from conception to near completion, here

Top Image: The Solar Boat of Khufu. Source: Ovedc / CC BY-SA 4.0.

By Ashley Cowie 

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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