Building pharaoh’s ships: Cedar, incense and sailing the Great Green

Ship timbers and maritime artefacts excavated at the Middle Kingdom frontier site of Mersa Gawasis on the Red Sea provide a new and unique perspective on ancient Egyptian seafaring. Cedar of Lebanon was the primary timber used to build seagoing ships and is available only in Mediterranean contexts. Excavations at Gawasis of cedar ship planks and equipment inform us about ship technology and shipbuilders, bureaucracy, exploitation of resources and the integration of watercraft in multiple aspects of ancient Egyptian life. Scholars underestimated the capabilities of the Egyptians as seafarers because physical remains of ships had not been found, but the size of the site, its repeated use and the nature of finds demonstrate confidence and ability. Using archaeological data from Gawasis, an international team designed, built and sailed a full-scale reconstruction of an ancient Egyptian ship that transforms the abstract concept of ‘The Great Green’ to the reality of people who repeatedly sailed more than 1,500 miles on voyages in the Red Sea.

Building pharaoh’s ships: Cedar, incense and sailing the Great Green

To reference this article we suggest:

Ward, Cheryl. 2012. Building pharaoh’s ships: Cedar, incense and sailing the Great Green. BMSAES 18: 217–32. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/publications/online_journals/bmsaes/issue_18/ward.aspx

Contact the author
cward@coastal.edu