Archaeology Magazine Archive

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(Stéphane Bégoin)

Min of the Desert
The Red Sea, Egypt

Nearly 3,500 years ago, the female pharaoh Hatshepsut ordered five trading ships built for a voyage over the Red Sea to the legendary Land of Punt. Now, Florida State University maritime archaeologist Cheryl Ward has plied the same waters on a similar vessel, a 66-foot-long, 30-ton reconstruction of an 18th Dynasty trading ship. Called Min of the Desert--in honor of the powerful Egyptian fertility god commemorated in stelae and shrines at the Middle Kingdom lagoon site of Mersa Gawasis--the ship was partly based on a detailed relief depicting Hatshepsut's fleet in her funerary temple.

Ward also relied on archaeological data recovered from Mersa Gawasis, where since 2003 archaeologists have unearthed wooden ship parts, anchors, and ropes still tied in original knots, evidence that ships were dismantled at the site. She used measurements from the artifacts, including a complete hull plank, in her design.

Last December, Ward and a crew of two dozen students, engineers, and sailors embarked on an 18-day voyage on the Red Sea aboard the reconstructed ship. The trip indicated that the Egyptians were much more proficient shipwrights than previously thought. "When the wind picked up and filled our sail, we just took off," she says, about twice as fast as she'd expected. "My hope was that we would be able to have a nice, solid voyage in which we could test the capability of the ship. I had no idea it would be so exhilarating, so easy to operate, and such a direct reflection of what we see in the ancient reliefs."

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