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Ancient ship timbers found in Egypt are oldest in existence

Jan 1, 2003

Four thousand years ago, an Egyptian army disassembled the components for a fleet of ships at a Nile shipyard, carefully labeling each timber and the lines for each sail, and then carried the fleet's components 90 miles across the desert to a sea port. The ships were reassembled for what is believed to have been a 1,000-mile voyage and, when they returned to the port, were again disassembled and buried in a series of hand-dug caves. The ancient Egyptians apparently intended to return and reassemble the vessels for additional trips to the fabled port city of Punt.

Clues to the elaborate events described above were discovered on the edge of the Egyptian desert in December by an Italian-led expedition of archaeologists from the University of Naples, Boston University and Florida State University. The ship timbers are considered the oldest surviving specimen of ship construction, according to Florida State archaeologist Dr. Cheryl Ward, who helped find and unearth the disassembled vessels. According to Ward, as many as 3,700 men may have taken part in the expeditions. "The scale of the organization astounds me," she said.

"The ships that these planks belonged to are similar to river craft from Egypt in form, but scaled up in terms of scantlings and number and arrangement of the mortise-and-tenon joints that hold planks together," Ward stated in an e-mail interview. The site, called Wadi Gawasis, sits on a windswept desert bluff overlooking the Red Sea in southern Egypt.