Boats and ships were very important means of transport on the River Nile. Egyptians traveled within the country and to the Sudan and to other African countries to bring back animals such as lions, elephants, leopards, baboons, and cattle.
They also imported exotic products such as leather, gold, ivory, ebony, electrum, ostrich feathers, and incense. Electrum is a natural alloy of gold and silver.
When traveling to the south, or upstream, sails were required but on the way north, or downstream, the masts were not needed and were placed horizontally on board.
Although the number of surviving boats is not great, ideas about the shapes and purposes of boats in ancient Egypt are based on the hundreds of model boats found in tombs around the country. The most famous of these are the model boats of Meketre.
Models of papyrus boats were made of painted wood, while real boats were made of wood and a few were built of papyrus stalks.
Reed rafts were mainly used for hunting in the marshes with poles, nets, or boomerangs and for organized sports and competitions.
Boats made of papyrus were connected with gods and royalty. They were used for either daily activities such as sailing for entertainment or for religious events such as transporting statues of the gods, pilgrimages, or ceremonies related to banishing evil spirits. Wooden boats were used to transport heavy cargo.
King Senefru had a fleet of 40 ships that were used to import cedar logs from Lebanon. The features and designs of ancient Egyptian boats varied according to their function and whether they needed to sail on the Nile or across the Mediterranean Sea or the Red Sea. Cult and ceremonial boats sailed on the Nile and the sacred lakes.
Military ships evolved in size and features. The largest ones, built during the Ramessid period, weighed almost 50 metric tons.
Two huge boats of King Khufu have been found. One of them was discovered in AD 1954 in its pit to the south of the Great Pyramid of Khufu, while the other still lies in its pit to the west of the first.
Made of cedar wood, the 1224 parts of the boat have numerous holes for the eventual "stitching" together with ropes of halfa grass.
Two other slightly smaller boats belonging to King Senusert the Third at Dahshur are now exhibited in the Egyptian Museum.
Thirty-five wooden model boats of different types were found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun. Some have decorated cabins to shelter the king and his courtiers.
Model boats for the symbolic journey of the sun god in the sky were also found.