The Lonely Island’s rendition of “I’m on a Boat” reveals not only the modern guy’s enthusiasm for getting the chance to ride on a boat, but also the prestige associated with this type of activity. For Andy Samburg, wind whipping through his coat, being on a boat is a classy and stylish way to travel and to show off. He gloats: “I’m the king of the world, on a boat like Leo. If you’re on the shore, then you’re sure not me, oh”. But it isn’t just the modern living who see the prestige of getting to ride on a boat. Ships are a prestigious way of burying and conveying the dead to their final resting place. I’ve already discussed the Viking ship burials in a previous post, which are either burned and buried or sent out to sea. Recently however the oldest Egyptian funerary boat was discovered just near the Giza Plateau.
The boat was uncovered at the archaeological site of Abu Rawash. Funerary structures and their associated places of worship have been discovered there, dating from the prehistoric to Coptic periods. A necropolis located near a flat roofed burial structure revealed 11 wooden panels from a funerary boat. The pieces were found by the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo. Each panel is 6 meters tall and 1.50 meters in width. Research into the panels showed that it belonged to King Den of the First Dynasty. His tomb is located at the royal necropolis of the Early Dynastic kings in the Upper Egyptian town of Abydos, not in Abu Rawash. Due to his numerous innovations and public works he is the most well known ruler of this period, and credited with setting the patterns for many royal traditions.
A number of funerary boats from Egypt had been recovered, although King Den’s is by far the oldest. In 1954 Kamal El-Malakh, historian and archaeologist, discovered the two boats of the 4th Dynasty king Khufu near his great pyramid. One was removed immediately for display, while the other was left in place until 2011. 14 boats were discovered in Abydos in 2000 by the University of Pennsylvania. The boats are associated with the burial of late Dynasty II (ca. 2675 B.C.) PharaohKhasekhemwy. 19 boat burials were found at Helwan by Z. Saad, and 6 were found at Saqqara by Walter Bryan Emery, however these are poorly documented.
The funerary boat is important because it played a major role in religion. The boat was conceived as the main means by which the gods traveled across the sky and through the netherworld. The funeral boat was a way of not only conveying the body of the deceased from the funeral to the burial or holy sites. Even if a full size boat was not included with the burial, there was usually a model of a boat. These models were for the souls of the dead to accompany the sun on its journey through the heavens (known as the Upper Waters). The importance of boats and water in Egyptian religion is directly associated with their reliance on the Nile as a form of transportation, source of food, and major source of water for drinking and agriculture.
When looking at societies that are burying large structures for the deceased, it is extremely important to understand the broader culture and meaning behind the practice. Both Vikings and Ancient Egyptians heavily relied on water as a means of transportation both in life and death, therefore it was important that this be a major part of the funeral itself. Insights like this may be potentially revealing for other burial structures whose meaning is unknown, such as the Anglo Saxon bed burials. The importance of the boat or sea burial hasn’t diminished either. Burial at sea was a common occurrence throughout the historic period, and now it is possible to set your remains on an eternal cruise, allowing them to be at sea without polluting the water. You could also be launched into space, a true journey into the heavens on a metal craft (for those with Judeo-Christian or Egyptian beliefs in a heaven above).
El-Aref. 2012. Sails set for eternity. Al-Ahram Weekly. http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2012/1109/he1.htm
Bond. 2012. 5,000 Year old wooden boats used by Pharaohs discovered. Daily Mail. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2178839/5-000-year-old-wooden-boat-used-pharaohs-discovered-French-archaeologists.html?ito=feeds-newsxml
Wikipedia. 2012. Abydos Boats. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abydos_boats