How to Make an Ancient Egyptian Boat

Written by peter staples
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How to Make an Ancient Egyptian Boat
An ancient Egyptian boat was found beneath the Great Pyramid of Cheops ( Images)

Ancient Egyptian boats varied in style over many centuries, but basically there was a need for three types: Simple reed rafts, mainly for hunting in marshland; larger and more stable wooden boats for transporting people, crops and goods along the Nile; and the Papyriform boat. Papyriform boats were used in religious events, as pleasure boats by the pharaohs, and as funerary boats. In 1954 a Papyriform boat, carefully disassembled into 651 parts, was discovered under a Pyramid. It dates from about 2600 B.C. This is how to make a Papyriform boat based on that unique discovery.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • (Quantities will depend on the size of boat)
  • Timber of various profiles and dimensions
  • Dowelling
  • Rope
  • Rush matting
  • Drill and wood bits
  • Hammer
  • Chisels
  • Saw
  • Caulking

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  1. 1

    Decide on the length of the boat. The hull's length to width ratio is about 7:1 and its width to height ratio 5:2. The original found in Egypt is about 150 feet long and 20 feet across at its widest point, which is amidships. The boat tapers to a point at both ends.

  2. 2

    Calculate how much timber is required for the hull, which is a single thickness of timber. There is no keel. Viewed in elevation the boat looks like a shallow V with the point flattened.

  3. 3

    Cut short planks of timber (cedar was used by the ancient Egyptians), sufficient for the desired length and height of the boat. The timber must be thick, not less than three-quarter inch. The length of the planks will vary depending on which part of the hull is being worked on: shorter for the curving in prow and stern, longer for the sides -- but a maximum of 2 feet.

  4. 4

    Sharpen the ends of the planks. These overlap and are joined together with dowels. It is characteristic of ancient Egyptian boats that the prow and stern rise out of the water in long curves. Shaping the hull is all-important at this stage.

  5. 5

    Drill a series of holes on the insides of the planks. This is to facilitate lashing the planks together and it is essential that the holes should not penetrate right through the planks, but form U-shapes that enter and exit on the interior face.


  1. 1

    Place half-round battens over the inside of the plank seams.

  2. 2

    Lash the planks and the battens together with rope passing through the holes.

  3. 3

    Support is needed within the shell. Horizontal timbers (4 inches by 2 inches) traversing the width of the boat are required about every 5 feet. On the inside of the hull, directly beneath each of these, insert curved timbers which follow the shape of the hull. These are lashed into place with rope and are recessed to allow for the battens over which they pass.

  4. 4

    Cut a length of 4 inch by 4 inch timber to run centrally along the entire length of the boat. Cut recesses in this to support the traversing timbers. The joints must be a tight fit.

  5. 5

    Caulk the hull at this stage.

    Bow And Stern

  1. 1

    Adding bow and stern timbers creates additional strength and completes the basic structure. These are shaped with a thin leading edge but are wider at the point where they join the hull timbers.

  2. 2

    Bring together the hull timbers at each end and attach them to the bow and stern timbers with dowel and rope.

  3. 3

    Rising over both ends of the boat are decorative upright timbers. The edges facing out of the vessel are rounded, those facing inward are square. The timbers are rectangular in section at the base, where they are slotted into the bow and stern timbers, and taper gradually to the top. Use 4 inch by 2 inch timber. The height of the uprights is about one-twentieth of the boat's length.

  4. 4

    Create six decorative parallel lines round each upright about six inches from the top.

  5. 5

    Make 12 oars from lengths of round timber about 10 feet long. The blades are flat and pointed at the end that goes in the water. Splice the other end into the oar handles.

    Drill 10 holes (five each side) between the wooden frame and the prow of the boat. Insert lengths of baton to which loops of rope are tied. These are the rowlocks and the rope loops should be a tight fit on the oars. Additionally, two rowlocks are required at the stern for the steering oars.

Tips and warnings

  • This type of craft would be inherently unstable, it is definitely not a boat in which to go sailing

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