Oldest maritime artefacts found

From: http://www.sis.gov.eg/En/EgyptOnline/Culture/000001/0203000000000000000718.htm

Jan 29, 2007

A cave cut in the rock has been discovered in the Pharaonic Port of Marsa Gawasis in Safaga.

In December-January, archaeologists found the timbers of sea-going vessels that were over 3,500 years old at Marsa Gawasis, which was a port on Egypt's Red Sea coast in Pharaonic times.

The cedar planks, which were imported from Syria, were found in two man-made caves. Among the other finds were rigging and inscriptions about expeditions to the Land of Punt.

Marsa Gawasis is located on a coral reef at the northern end of the Wadi Gawasis, 23 kilometres south of the port of Safaga.

The site was discovered in the mid-1970s by Abdel Moneim Sayyed of the University of Alexandria.

He identified Marsa Gawasis as the Pharaonic Port from where expeditions were sent to the Land of Punt, which is thought to have been located in present-day Eritrea and Eastern Sudan.

In 2001, the University of Naples, the Italian African and Oriental Institute and Boston University began to examine the site under the direction of Rodolfo Fattovich and Kathryan Bard.

The excavations were the focus of a lecture recently given by Fattovich at the archaeological section of the Italian embassy in Cairo.

In 2005-2006 excavations were carried out along the western slope of the reef near the shore.

Evidence pointed to the use of Marsa Gawasis as the port for voyages to punt from the early Middle Kingdom to the early New Kingdom. The four man-made caves and the planks are the world's oldest maritime artefacts along with 21 wooden crates and a new stele with the five names of Amenemhat III.

Late December last year, after more than three metres of sand had been removed from the slope of the coral reef, the entrance of a large man-made cave was uncovered by the Italian and American archaeologists.

Stone anchors, two large cedar beams were found plus mud bricks and plaster that had been used to reinforce the entrance.

To the north of the entrance, the archaeologists found an antechamber leading to two rectangular rooms both 12 x 4 metres.

To the south is a smaller antechamber leading to yet another chamber hewn out of solid rock. Outside the cave entrance are small carved niches, four of which still contained limestone steles, which suggest that this cave was a temple.

The best preserved stele, which has fallen out of its niche, was found face-down in the sand. Carved on this stele was the cartouche of King Amenemhat III, who ruled in about 1800 BC. The hieroglyphic text below a scene of the King making an offering to the god Min concerns two expeditions led by officials Nebsu and Amenhotep to Punt and Bia-Punt.

Inside the cave entrance, archaeologists found two cedar steering oars – the first complete parts of a ship ever discovered in Egypt.

Pottery dating to the early 18th Dynasty was found with the oars and they may have been used on ships of the Queen Hatshepsut's famous expedition to Punt, which is described in bas-relief inscriptions in her temple at Deir el-Bahri.