Sunday, February 26, 2012

Khufu's Ships Burn!

The big news in Egyptology today is the excavation and restoration of king Khufu's second boat which was found in a pit next to that kings famous pyramid at Giza. The boat may well have been left protected where it lay for more than forty five centuries to be left in reserve in case and for when the already assembled boat is destroyed.

I cannot help but remember the two barges created for the Roman Emperor Caligula like the one recreated above, these ships were floated on the sacred lake Nemi. The Nemi ships were built in the first century AD and are believed to have been floating palaces for the emperor including marble floors and technological advances.
Fishermen long knew that the barges were at the bottom of the lake but it was in 1927 that Benito Mussolini ordered the ships recovered, this was made successful by draining the lake. The ships were set up in a museum built to house them but both were burned and destroyed in the second world war.

A troubled and economically fragile country like Egypt is playing with fire by excavating and putting on display the second of king Khufu's boats. It is a perfect example of misguided intellectualism looking for a pay check off a fragile and perishable antiquity and completely in keeping with Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities and it's inability to properly manage it's cultural heritage.

In the last year and a half an important library set up by Napoleon was burned and the Cairo museum was robbed with dozens of pieces of which many are still missing including wooden shabti belonging to the nobleman Yuya which themselves may have met the fires in Tahrir square when common sense came too and those who stole may have realized that possession of them would more than likely result in dozens of years in prison.(1)

These short sighted people who are glorifying their work on the ship do not have any vision of what the next 20 years and beyond will hold in the tumultuous and unstable middle east including Egypt. The project to excavate the ship is held up as science and this so called science will inevitably result in the loss of the subject.

Now that the pit is open perhaps a better plan will be to restore the ships elements, repack and reseal the pit to protect it for those Egyptian's who will live in a distant time in the future and only be seen again at the appropriate time when it's counterpart has been destroyed.

Too bad Italy's former dictator Mussolini and Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities have this archaeology in common and have both been unable to see the wisdom of leaving one of their ships where it had been safe for thousands of years.

Resources:
Reconstruction of the Nemi ship: Gelo4
Photo of Khufu's ship: Berthold Werner
(1). Valley of Golden Mummies by Zahi Hawass pg. 13

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