Archaeologists from Italy, the United States, and Egypt excavating a dried-up lagoon known as Mersa Gawasis have unearthed traces of an ancient harbor that once launched early voyages like Hatshepsut’s onto the open ocean. Some of the site’s most evocative evidence for the ancient Egyptians’ seafaring prowess is concealed behind a modern steel door set into a cliff just 700 feet or so from the Red Sea shore. Inside is a man-made cave about 70 feet deep. Lightbulbs powered by a gas generator thrumming just outside illuminate pockets of work: Here, an excavator carefully brushes sand and debris away from a 3,800-year-old reed mat; there, conservation experts photograph wood planks, chemically preserve them, and wrap them for storage.
|4000 year Egyptian ship plank|
|4000 year Egyptian rope coils|
The rope is woven from papyrus, a clue that it may have come from the Nile Valley, where the paperlike material was common. Archaeologists found it neatly, professionally coiled and stacked, presumably by ancient mariners just before they left the shelter of the cave for the last time.
Boston University archaeologist Kathryn Bard and an international team have uncovered six other caves at Mersa Gawasis. The evidence they have found, including the remains of the oldest seagoing ships ever discovered, offers hard proof of the Egyptians’ nautical roots and important clues to the location of Punt. “These new finds remove all doubt that you reach Punt by sea,” Baines says. “The Egyptians must have had considerable seagoing experience.”
|1400 B.C. Egyptian merchant ship|
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Related reading: Ancient Egyptian Sea Power and the Origin of Maritime Forces