A team of archaeologists from Charles University in Prague recently announced two exciting discoveries in the ancient Egyptian necropolis of Abusir: a 4500-year-old boat and the tomb of Queen Khentkaus III, a previously unknown queen.
In addition to being remarkably intact, experts say that the vessel is the first Old Kingdom boat ever found in association with a non-royal tomb. Meanwhile, Queen Khentkaus III's resting place provides additional historical knowledge of Egypt's Fifth Dynasty (ca. 2465–2323 BCE). Together, the two highlight Abusir's importance as an archaeological site.
Members of Egypt’s ruling class were buried with boats, a custom that began in the Early Dynastic Period. The Czech archaeologists found the roughly 60-foot-long vessel buried near a mastaba, a type of Egyptian tomb made of mud-brick. While the structure was large—indicating that its owner was a member of the wealthy elite—the researchers don't believe it belonged to a monarch because it wasn't located near a royal pyramid.
Site of the boat's discovery. Image credit: © Lucie Kettnerová, Archives of the Czech Institute of Egyptology, Charles University
"This is a highly unusual discovery since boats of such a size and construction were, during this period, reserved solely for top members of the society, who usually belonged to the royal family," Miroslav Bárta, who directed the dig, said in a statement.
Hot desert sands had preserved the watercraft's wooden planks and pegs, plant fiber battens, and some of its ropes. Since many Egyptian boats have been discovered in fragments or in poor condition, the find might shed new light on ancient shipbuilding techniques, experts say.
Scholars debate why ancient Egyptians buried their dead with boats, but many believe the boats were meant to transport the soul in the afterlife. This team hopes that this vessel will be the first of many discovered in Abusir. “Where there is one boat, there very well may be more,” Bárta says.
Queen Khentkaus III's tomb as seen from the northeast. Image credit: © Jaromír Krejčí, Archives of the Czech Institute of Egyptology, Charles University
As for Queen Khentkaus III, the Czech archaeologists found her burial spot near the pyramid of Pharaoh Neferefre (2431–2420 BCE). Its location suggests that Queen Khentkaus III was both his wife and the mother of his son and successor, King Menkauhore.
Since archaeologists know little about King Menkauhore, the queen's tomb might reveal more information about his rule. "By this discovery we have uncovered yet another unknown part of the Fifth Dynasty history which adds to the mosaics known so far. And more is to be expected to come. This find illustrates the importance of women at the royal court and in Ancient Egypt in general," Bárta said in a statement.
Below are some of the limestone vessels buried with Queen Khentkaus III.
Image credit: © Martin Frouz, Archives of the Czech Institute of Egyptology, Charles University