Sailing into antiquity
By Colin Nickerson - Boston
The archeological digs at have yielded neither mummies nor grand monuments.
But Boston University archeologist Kathryn Bard and her colleagues are uncovering the oldest remnants of seagoing ships and other relics linked to exotic trade with a mysterious Red Sea realm called Punt.
“They were the space launches of their time,’’ Bard said of the epic missions to procure wondrous wares.
Although Nile River craft are well-known, the ability of ancient Egyptian mariners to ply hundreds of miles of open seas in cargo craft was not so fully documented.
Then the team led by Bard and an Italian archeologist, Rodolfo Fattovich, started uncovering maritime storerooms in 2004, putting hard timber and rugged rigging to the notion of pharaonic deepwater prowess.
In the most recent discovery, on Dec. 29, they located the eighth in a series of lost chambers at Wadi Gawasis after shoveling through cubic meters of rock rubble and wind-blown sand.
Only a few days earlier, Bard had been grading term papers in chilly Boston; now, with flashlight and trowel, she was probing a musty manmade cavern, one that might date back more than 4,000 years.
“When the last layer of sand was removed, stale, fetid air rushed from a crack,’’ Bard said by mobile phone from the dig site, a dried-out water course beside the Red Sea.
The reconnaissance of the room and its relics will take time and caution. The chamber’s most likely contents include ship parts, jugs, trenchers, and workaday linens, as well as hieroglyphic records.
“It’s a storeroom, not a royal tomb,’’ Bard stressed.
However prosaic they seem, the finds at Wadi Gawasis - including the ancestor of the modern package label - really speak of the glitter, gold, and glory of a long-ago civilization that bewitches us still.