National Geographic : 1955 Nov
Fresh Treasures from Egypt's Ancient Sands Archeologists Add a Funerary Boat, Step Pyramid, and Temple to the Priceless Heritage of Relics of the Pharaohs BY JEFFERSON CAFFERY 611 Former United States Ambassador to Egypt With Illustrations by National Geographic Photographer David S. Boyer CRAWLING into a rock-cut chamber that shelters a wooden boat intact after 4,500 years is more the reward than the duty of an ambassador. It was a dramatic moment for me when the first of forty-one 17-ton limestone blocks was raised and edged aside to reveal a remark able boat, with papyrus-shaped bowsprit, which had lain undisturbed through four and a half millenniums at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops.)* The chant of the workmen, "Salli ala el nabi," filled the air. "Pray for the Prophet," they sang over and over as they tugged on chains of the block and tackle. I wondered whether the Arabic tune, pacing the diggers at their work, perhaps bore a resemblance to the song of the Pharaoh's workers who put the block there so many centuries ago. The boat discovered at Giza last year is the largest of these ancient vessels ever found in a state of good preservation. Even the great masses of rope left in the burial pit looked as if someone might have carelessly coiled and dropped them there only a few years ago (pages 612, 616, and 617). End to end with the uncovered vault, Egyptologists have located a second chamber. Here, they are fully confident, a second boat lies buried. Experience has proved that such funerary barks are likely to be found in pairs, or even in sets of three or more. Boats Buried with Kings Still a matter of debate among scholars is the proper designation of the knocked-down craft over whose crypt had trod thousands of visitors to the Great Pyramid. Experts have now cast doubt on its preliminary iden tification as a solar boat, of which ancient models appear on Egyptian tombs. ,Boats of this kind are believed to have been buried with the kings to carry them on their eternal voyagings through the sky in the company of the Sun-god. When I left my post as Ambassador to France to go to Egypt in 1949, my first thought, apart from the business of state, was of the opportunity I would have to delve into ancient history. I soon found that it was to be my good fortune to witness many a chapter of archeological history in the making. During my five years as Ambassador to Egypt I saw the persistent efforts of Egyp tologists rewarded with many impressive finds. Archeologists regularly invited me to their digs, especially when they believed they were nearing "pay dirt." Desert Sands Preserve Ancient Relics The most interesting of these successes all three of which I followed closely-were the discovery of the famed boat at Giza, the ex cavation of the unfinished step pyramid at Saqqara, lost since ancient days, and the un earthing of the Valley Temple of Snefru at Dahshur, containing hundreds of valuable antiquities (map, page 621). My original intention had been to retire from the Foreign Service after a year or two in Egypt. But from the standpoint of indulg ing my favorite pastime, I was glad that official duties kept me in Egypt much longer. Here I found that the wonders of the past opened like a well-documented book before persistent inquiry and a willingness to travel, whether across the desert on horseback or crawling on hands and knees into ancient tombs. I know no more satisfying recreation, nor a more informative way to put together the pieces and puzzles of history.. *See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Kayaks Down the Nile," by John M. Goddard, May, 1955; and "Safari from Congo to Cairo," by Elsie May Bell Grosvenor, December, 1954. t See "Daily Life in Ancient Egypt," by William C. Hayes, with paintings by H. M . Herget, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1941; also the 356 page color-illustrated book, Everyday Life in Ancient Times: Highlights of the Beginnings of Western Civilization in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, published by the National Geographic Society, Washington, D. C.; price, $5 postpaid in U.S.A . and possessions; $5.25 elsewhere. All remittances payable in U. S. funds.