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Ships, Ports, and Shipbuilding
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The Boats of Tutankhamun

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Glossary

adze

a cutting tool with a thin arched blade at right angles to the handle and mainly used for shaping wood

bulwark

The part of a ship's side that is above the upper deck.

halfa

A sturdy, coarse, fast-spreading and deep rooted plant or weed that grows in arid regions.

hull

The frame or body of a ship, exclusive of masts or superstructure.

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Shipbuilding in Ancient Egypt
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Beginning in the Old Kingdom, numerous reliefs and paintings depict shipbuilding. The most distinguished of them is found in Saqqara in the mastaba of the official Ti from the Fifth Dynasty.

Workers are shown lopping the trunk of a tree with axes and smoothing it with an adze, an axlike tool with a curved blade at right angles to the handle. One man is sawing a log, perhaps a deck beam, while two other men with chisels and clubs are cutting holes for pegs in a plank. On one of the hulls, a plank, probably the bulwark, is being fastened. At least seven pegs can be counted in the gap between the plank and the side of the ship.

One man is holding a stick in the crack, perhaps to check that the plank is being beaten down evenly by the two men hammering it with stones while a foreman directs the operation.

At the same time, the plank is still being worked by a man with a chisel and club, while four men with adzes are working on the hull. The adze was used not only to make planks roughly even but also as a sort of plane in the final stages.

Three different types of hull are found in depictions of large sailing ships and in models. One has abruptly terminated ends, another has one end cut off and the other tapering to a point, and the third has rounded ends. One type of hull also clearly shows planking.

The peculiarities of Egyptian ship construction in the Middle Kingdom, which used no nails or pegs but only planks lashed together with ropes of papyrus or halfa grass, made it theoretically possible for vessels to be disassembled, transported, and reassembled elsewhere.

This process seems to have taken place during the Middle Kingdom, when expeditions traveled overland to the Red Sea, where fleets were constructed for expeditions to Arabia or East Africa.

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