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Painted wooden model of a boat
From Meir, Middle Egypt
12th Dynasty, around 1900 BC
Boats were one of the types of models placed in ancient Egyptian tombs. The Egyptians saw the blue sky as a celestial river, on which the sun-god Re travelled every day in his own boat. One of the aspirations of an Egyptian king was to travel with the god across the sky in the Afterlife. To help achieve this, full-size boats were buried outside the pyramids of some of the kings of the Old Kingdom (about 2160-2040 BC), including those at Giza. Later it was possible for ordinary people to join the sun-god, using a spell in the Book of the Dead. In another spell, the deceased must name all the elements of the boat before he can cross the celestial river to the Afterlife.
Boats were the main means of transport in ancient Egypt, both for travelling up and down the country, and for crossing the River Nile. The prevailing wind, blowing from the north, helped sailboats travel upstream, towards Upper Egypt and Nubia. Meanwhile, the current of the Nile, flowing northward, aided movement towards the Mediterranean Sea. During the Middle Kingdom (about 2040-1750 BC), two models of passenger boats - one fully rigged, and the other with no mast and rowers in position - were placed in tombs. This is a rigged example. The owner crouches at the front of the boat, while the pilot stands at the prow directing the crew adjusting the sail.
S.R. Glanville and R.O. Faulkner, Catalogue of Egyptian Antiqu-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1972)
M. Stead, Egyptian life (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)
S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)