Ancient Egyptian solar ships

Several Ancient Egyptian solar ships and boat pits were found in many Ancient Egyptian sites.[1] The most famous is the Khufu ship now preserved in the Giza Solar boat museum beside the Great pyramid at Giza. The full-sized ships or boats were buried near Ancient Egyptians' Pyramids or Temples at many sites. The history and function of the ships are not precisely known. They might be of the type known as a "solar barge", a ritual vessel to carry the resurrected king with the sun god Ra across the heavens. However, some ships bear signs of being used in water, and it is possible that these ships were funerary barges.

Comparative table of solar ships

Name of ship(s) Dating Number Discovery site Current site Length & width Owner Discovery date Current status Coordinates
Khufu First Solar shipc. 2566 BC1South of Khufu pyramid, GizaKhufu Solar Ship museum, Giza43.6 m long & 5.9 m wideKing Khufu1954 by Kamal el-MallakhShip pit preserved containing wood of ship later on reconstructed29°58′41″N 31°08′04″E
Khufu Second Solar shipc. 2566 BC1South of Khufu pyramid, Giza2nd Solar Ship pit, Khufu pyramid complex, GizaN/AKing Khufu1954 by Kamal el-Mallakh & 2012Ship pit preserved containing wood of ship to be preserved29°58′41″N 31°08′04″E
Hetepheres I Solar Shipc. 2589–2566 BC1Pyramid of Hetepheres (GIa), Khufu pyramid complex, GizaN/AN/AQueen Hetepheres IN/ABoat pit preserved29°58′41″N 31°08′04″E
The Ka Solar Shipc. 2566 BC1Pyramid of the Ka, Khufu pyramid complex, GizaN/AN/AKing Khufu1954Boat pit preserved29°58′41″N 31°08′04″E
Other Khufu Solar shipc. 2566 BC3East of Khufu pyramid, GizaN/AN/AKing KhufuN/AShip pits preserved29°58′41″N 31°08′04″E
Khentkaus II Solar shipc. 2445 BC2pyramid of Khentkawes in Giza (LG 100), GizaN/AN/AQueen Khentkaus II1906 by BorchardtShip pits preserved29°58′41″N 31°08′04″E
Khafre Solar Shipsc. 2570 BC75 around the Upper temple: 2 on north side & 3 on south; 2 in tunnels of Lower temple; Khafra pyramid complex, GizaN/AN/AKing Khafra1837 by John Perring ?Ship pits are preserved29°58′34″N 31°07′51″E
Nyuserre Ini Solar shipc. 2421 BC1outside the temple on the south-east corner of Niuserre Sun Temple, Abo Gorab, AbusirBoat pit preservedN/AKing Nyuserre Ini1905Boat pit preserved29°54′N 31°12′E
Den Solar shipc. 2935 BC2northern area of Mastaba number six, Abu RawashNew National Museum of Egyptian Civilization6 m length and 1.5 m wideKing Den2012Preserved30°01′55″N 31°04′30″E
Djedefre Solar Shipc. 2575 BC1East side of the pyramid complex of Djedefre, Abu RawashLouvre, France35 m long & ? m wide\king Djedefre, son of Khufu1901Boat pit preserved & beautiful heads carved into the likeness of Djedefre were found here30°01′55″N 31°04′30″E
Neferirkare Solar Shipsc. 2181-2160 BC2North & South sides of Neferirkare pyramid, Abusirmentioned in a papyrusN/AKing Neferirkare1904? by M. Verneronly dust remains Boat pits preserved29°54′N 31°12′E
Neferefre Solar Shipsc. 2445 BC5funerary temple of Neferefre, Abu SirN/AN/AKing NeferefreN/ABoat pits preserved29°54′N 31°12′E
Ptahshepses Solar Shipsc. 2445–2421 BC2Southern part of the complex of the vizier Ptahshepses, Abu SirN/AN/APtahshepsesN/ABoat pits preserved29°54′N 31°12′E
Hor-Aha Solar shipsc. 2775 BC14between the Shunet ez-Zabib and the Western Mastaba, AbydosN/A18–27 m long & 2.5 m wideKing Hor-Aha1991Fragile boat remains26°11′06″N 31°55′08″E
Khasekhemwy Solar Shipsc. 2675 BC12Umm el Qa'ab, AbydosN/A25 m long & 2.5 m wide & 0.5 m deepKhasekhemwy2000 by D O'ConnorFragile boat remains26°11′06″N 31°55′08″E
Senusret III Solar shipsc. 1839 BC6Near the pyramid of Senusret III, Dashur1 in Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, USA and 1 in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, USA; 2 in The Cairo Egyptian Museum & 2 were lost?10–18 m long & 5.9 m wideKing Senusret III1893 Jacques de MorganWell preserved29.80°N 31.24°E / 29.80; 31.24
Amenemhat III Solar shipc. 1814 BC1South perimeter of Amenemhat IIIpyramid, Dashurdecomposed15 m long & 5.7 m wideKing Amenemhat III?Ship pit preserved29.80°N 31.24°E / 29.80; 31.24
Saqqarah First dynasty Solar boatsc. 3100-2890 BC3Tomb S 3357, SaqqaraN/AN/AFirst Dynasty of Egypt kings1957 by W. EmoryShip pits preserved29.871264°N 31.216381°E / 29.871264; 31.216381
Kagemni Solar shipsc. 2345 – 2333 BC2tomb of the vizier Kagemni, SaqqaraN/AN/AVizier KagemniN/AShip pits preserved29.871264°N 31.216381°E / 29.871264; 31.216381
Unas Solar Shipc. 2345 BC2150 meter from the funeral Temple of Unas Pyramid, SaqqaraN/A44 m long & ? m wideKing Unas?Ship pits preserved29.871264°N 31.216381°E / 29.871264; 31.216381
Tarkhan Solar shipc. 3100-2890 BC?Tarkhan (Egypt) or Kafr AmmarN/AN/AFirst Dynasty of Egypt kings?1913 by Flinders PetrieN/A29.500°N 31.225°E / 29.500; 31.225
Helwan Solar shipsc. 3100-2890 BC5Tombs 762 H5, 649 H5, 1502 H2 and 680 H5), HelwanN/AN/AFirst Dynasty of Egypt kings?1940s by Z SaadN/A29°58′41″N 31°08′04″E
Senusert I Solar Shipc. 1926 BC1?Pyramid of Senusret I, LishtN/AN/AKing Senusret I?40 timbers are preserved29°34′13″N 31°13′52″E
Amenemhat I Solar shipc. 1962 BC1Pyramid of Amenemhat I, LishtN/AN/AKing Amenemhat I?N/A29°34′13″N 31°13′52″E
Imhotep Solar shipc. 2650–2600 BC1Pyramid of Imhotep?, LishtN/AN/AChancellor Imhotep?N/A29°34′13″N 31°13′52″E

Giza Necropolis


Seven boat pits have been identified around the Great Pyramid. Five of which belong to the Great Pyramid proper. The other 2 are associated with the pyramid of Hetepheres (GIa) and the pyramid of the Ka (GId). Khufu's boat pits are located on the eastern side of the pyramid and the southern side.[2]

Khufu First Solar ship

The Khufu ship is an intact full-size vessel from Ancient Egypt that was sealed into a pit in the Giza pyramid complex at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Giza around 2500 BC. It was thus identified as the world's oldest intact ship and has been described as "a masterpiece of woodcraft" that could sail today if put into water.[3] The Khufu ship is one of the oldest, largest, and best-preserved vessels from antiquity. It measures 43.6 m (143 ft) long and 5.9 m (19.5 ft) wide.

The ship was one of two[4] rediscovered in 1954 by Kamal el-Mallakh – undisturbed since it was sealed into a pit carved out of the Giza bedrock. It took years for the boat to be painstakingly reassembled, primarily by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities’ chief restorer, Ahmed Youssef Moustafa (later known as Haj Ahmed Youssef).

The ship is today housed in The Khufu Boat Museum, a small modern facility built in 1982 resting alongside the Great Pyramid.

In one of the southern boat pits a disassembled wooden barge was discovered in 1954. It has been reconstructed and resides in the boat shaped museum.[5] In 1987, the western boat pit at the Great Pyramid was examined by a microprobe inserted through a hole drilled into the pit, confirming the presence of a second wooden boat similar to the first. It was originally decided that the second boat should remain in its pit, in conditions which made its preservation near perfect.[6]

Khufu Second Solar Ship

The second solar boat of Khufu is being excavated in 2012-2013 and is going to be reconstructed.[7][8] Sakuji Yoshimura, a Waseda University professor who is leading the restoration project with Egypt's Antiquities Council, said (June 2011) that scientists discovered that this second ship is inscribed with Khufu's name.

Hetepheres Solar Ship

Associated with the pyramid of Hetepheres I (GIa).[2]

Ka Solar Ship

Associated with the pyramid of the Ka (GId).[2]

Khafre Solar Ship

Khafre's pyramid has five pits that once contained funeral boats. One known boat pit is alongside the east face of Khafre's pyramid[9] Another two of the covered boat pits of Khafre lie on the east side of the pyramid & covered boat pit lies on the south side of the mortuary temple of Khafre.[10]

Abu Gorab

Niuserre Solar ship

A few hundred meters to the north of Abusir, about six miles southwest of Cairo is the sun temple known as Abu Gorab. There lies the ruins of Niuserre's temple, Outside the temple proper and near its southern side, the German expedition also discovered a large building in the shape of a boat. This was a pit, lined with mud bricks which was at one time plastered, whitewashed and colored. This structure was augmented with several other elements made from different materials such as wood. This structure is believed to have been purely symbolic, representing a "solar boat" in which the sun god was supposed to have floated across the heavenly ocean.[11] (The pit might have contained a boat)

Abu Rawash

King Den Solar ship

A wooden funerary boat thought to have once belonged to First Dynasty King Den has been discovered at Abu Roash, the place of the pyramid of Khufu's son, Djedefre. Unearthed in the northern area of Mastaba number six (a flat-roofed burial structure) at the archaeological site, boat consists of 11 large wooden planks reaching six metres high and 1.5 metres wide.[12] [13] Two boats were discovered at Abu Rawash hill M.[14](2 boats or Ships)[15]

Djedefre Solar Ship

At the complex of Djedefre, Emile Chassinat, between 1900 and 1902, discovered the remains of a funerary settlement and a boat pit.[16] The solar boat pit is situated on the east side of the pyramid. It is a ditch 35 meters long cut out of the living limestone. It is destined for the royal boat. The beautiful heads carved into the likeness of Djedefre were found there.[17]


Neferirkare Solar Ship

Neferirkare's pyramid at Abusir was the largest structure in the region. Large wooden boats were buried outside the pyramid in its courtyard on the north and south sides. Archaeologists discovered them by their mention in a cache of papyrus found within the mortuary temple, but unfortunately, when they excavated the southern boat pit, only dust remained of the boat itself.


The Abydos ships have the honor of being the world's oldest planked boats.

Hor-Aha Solar ships

In 1991 in the desert near the temple of Khentyamentiu near Abydos, archaeologists uncovered the remains of the 14 ships dating back to the early first dynasty (2950-2775 BC), possibly associated with Hor-Aha. These 75-foot-long (23 m) ships are buried side by side and have wooden hulls, rough stone boulders which were used as anchors, and "sewn" wooden planks. Also found within their desert graves were remains of the woven straps that joined the planks, as well as reed bundles that were used to seal seams between planks.[15]

Abydos had at least a dozen boat graves[18] adjacent to a massive funerary enclosure for the late Dynasty II (ca. 2675 B.C.) Pharaoh Khasekhemwy.[19][20] Their age should be more than 400 years older than Khufu's (Cheops)[14] Ships were 25 meters long, 2.5 meters wide and about 0.5 meters deep, seating about 30 rowers. They had narrowing sterns and prows and they were painted.[21] They are in meaning and function the direct ancestors of the boat recovered at Khufu's Great Pyramid at Giza[20][22] The ships are possibly associated with King Aha, the first ruler of that dynasty.[23] The length of the structures varied from nearly 20 to 27m.[24]

These are the world's most ancient planked hulls. The traditions of the hull construction seen in all the excavated vessels continued through the end of the sixth century BC and, with the substitution of nails for mortise-and-tenon joints, into the present. An abandoned freighter, stripped of its internal timbers and left on a small branch of the Nile near Mataria (ancient Heliopolis, north of modern Cairo) provides the first instance of pegged mortise-and-tenon joints in an Egyptian hull. Not all joints were through-fastened, and the pegs, or treenails, may also have fastened frames to the hull, but for this marks a dramatic departure from previous shipbuilding techniques.[25]


Senusret III Solar ships

Six boats of Middle Kingdom date were found at Dahshur. They are about 10 m long each.[14] In 1893 Jacques de Morgan discovered six boats near the Middle Kingdom pyramid of Senwosret III at Dashur.[6] He made drawings and measurements of only one boat (the White boat) from the cache at Dahshur.[26] One of the ships measure 18 meters.[27]

Excavations conducted in A.D. 1894 and 1895 by French archaeologist Jean-Jacques de Morgan at the funerary complex of Senwosret III on the plain of Dahshur revealed five or six small boats. Today, only four of the "Dahshur boats" can be located with certainty; two are in the United States, one in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh and one in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. The remaining two are on display in The Egyptian Museum, Cairo.[28]

Since their excavation these boats remained relatively inconspicuous until the mid-1980s when a study of the two hulls in the United States was conducted.[28]

Amenemhat III Solar ship

The Ship pit was discovered at the south perimeter of his pyramid, it measured 15 meter by 5.57 meters.[27]



A 'model estate' and funerary boat was found at Saqqara by W. Emery (in 1957-8; tomb S 3357).[14] (3 Ships)[15] At least 3 mud-brick boat graves were associated with First Dynasty rulers and high-ranking officials.[22]

Unas Solar Ship

Unas pyramid at Saqqarah has two boats.[29] One the boat pits is 44 meter long and is located 150 meter away from the remains of the funeral temple. Lined with limestone blocks these boat pits are thought to have been simulacra of solar boats.[30]


Remains of Old Kingdom boats were found at Tarkhan[31] (at least one boat)[21][32]


Archaic boats had been found at Helwan by Z. Saad.[14] (4 Ships)[15] In total 4 or 5 boat burials were found at Helwan, 2 at Abu Roash Hill M, and finally others at the northerly Abydos site of the Royal enclosures, near those just found.[14]


Senusert Solar Ship

Forty timbers were found in excavations near the Pyramid of Senusret I in Lisht. They were identified as part of vessel or vessels.[33][34]

Amenemhat I Solar ship

A mudbrick boat pit has also been found outside Amenemhat I’s pyramid western perimeter wall.[35]

Other Ancient Egyptian Ships

Excavation of the remains of seagoing ships at Wadi/Mersa Gawasis, south of Safaga on the Egyptian Red Sea coast, in 2004–05 and 2005–06 provides extensive physical evidence for construction techniques, wood selection, and recycling and re-use practices of the ancient Egyptians. Discoveries at Gawasis prove that common Egyptian river-oriented design and construction techniques were successful both on the Nile and at sea.[36][37]

See also


  1. Vinson, Steve (1994). Egyptian boats and ships. Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, UK: Shire Publications. ISBN 0-7478-0222-X.
  3. "Broadband Internet Services Provider, WISP, VOIP, Fiber, Fixed Wireless, Hosting & IT services - SUCCEED.NET". SUCCEED.NET. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  4. "Egypt Excavates Ancient King's 4,500-Year-Old Ship". Fox News. Associated Press. 23 June 2011. Archived from the original on 26 June 2011. Retrieved 25 June 2011. Archaeologists have begun excavating a 4,500-year-old wooden boat found next to the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of Egypt's main tourist attractions, Egypt's top antiquities official said Thursday.
  5. "Khufu boat pits". Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  7. "早稲田大学エジプト学研究所". (in Japanese). Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  8. "Scholars will reassemble ancient Egyptian boat". Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  9. "Electromagnetic Sounder Experiments at the Pyramids of Giza". Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  10. "Applications of Modern Sensing Techniques to Egyptology". Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  11. Kinnaer, Jacques. "The Ancient Egypt Site". Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  12. "First Dynasty funerary boat discovered at Egypt's Abu Rawash - Ancient Egypt - Heritage - Ahram Online". Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  13. "5,000-year-old wooden boat used by the pharaohs is discovered by French archaeologists". Mail Online. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  14. "Francesco Raffaele Egyptology News". Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  15. Other Solar Boats in Ancient Egypt
  16. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-10-13. Retrieved 2012-12-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. Abu Rawash boat pit
  18. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-30. Retrieved 2012-12-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. "Welcome". Digital Egypt for Universities. 2000–2003. Retrieved 2018-02-24.CS1 maint: others (link) CS1 maint: date format (link)
  20. Archaeology, Nordic Underwater. "Abydos royal boats". Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  22. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-30. Retrieved 2012-12-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. "Ancient Egyptian Boats". Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  24. "Abydos Royal Enclosures (Kom es-Sultan) Early Dynastic Egypt period". Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  25. "The Promise of Egypt's Maritime Legacy". Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  27. The Pyramid Complex of Senwosret I by Dieter Arnold Page 53
  28. "The Cairo Dahshur Boats, a Digital Exhibit". Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  30. Photo of the Week – Unas Boat Pit – Talking Pyramids Archived January 5, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  31. Ancient Egypt: Ships and Boats
  32. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-09-29. Retrieved 2008-07-23.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  34. The Pyramid Complex of Senwosret by Dieter Arnold Page 52
  35. "el-Lisht Necropolis". Egyptian Monuments. 2009-02-26. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  36. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-30. Retrieved 2012-12-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  37. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-30. Retrieved 2012-12-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

Further reading

  • Nancy Jenkins – The boat beneath the pyramid: King Cheops' royal ship (1980) ISBN 0-03-057061-1
  • Paul Lipke – The royal ship of Cheops: a retrospective account of the discovery, restoration and reconstruction. Based on interviews with Hag Ahmed Youssef Moustafa (Oxford: B.A.R., 1984) ISBN 0-86054-293-9
  • Björn Landström – Ships of the Pharaohs: 4000 Years of Egyptian Shipbuilding (Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1970) Library of Congress Catalog Card number 73-133207
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