Florida State University

Sail like an Egyptian

By Jeremy Hsu

An archaeologist who examined remnants of the oldest-known seafaring ships has now put ancient Egyptian technology to the test.

She teamed up with a naval architect, modern shipwrights and an on-site Egyptian archaeologist to build a replica 3,800-year-old ship for a Red Sea trial run this past December.

The voyage was meant to retrace an ancient voyage that the female pharaoh Hatsheput sponsored to a place which ancient Egyptians called God's land, or Punt.

Ship planks and oar blades discovered in 2006 at the caves of Wadi Gawasis provided a basis for the ship reconstruction.

"The planks that we looked at from the archaeological site are in great condition," said Cheryl Ward, the maritime archaeologist at Florida State University who headed the effort. 

The nearly 4,000-year-old timbers even contained shipworms which had tunneled into the ships during sea voyages, leaving behind tube-like shells that filled up the wood like a sponge.

Ward was able to estimate from the shipworms that the ship endured a six-month, 2,000-mile round trip to Punt -- located in modern Ethiopia or Yemen.

A French production company called Sombrero and Co. approached Ward with the idea of recreating the ancient journey for a documentary, and so her team set about resurrecting a ship for the modern expedition.