Tuesday, January 12, 2010

TV Notes: The Pharaoh who conquered the sea

BBC iPlayer and web links

Notes taken from last night's show on BBC4 (UK). It can still be viewed by UK residents on BBC iPlayer at the above address for the next seven days. There are also other links to articles which may be of interest. The notes are a bit rough but hopefully provide some sort of idea of the programme's content.

Hatshepsut’s life is shrouded in mystery. She is the first woman to have reigned over Egypt, for over 20 years in a period of relative peace and prosperity but after her death the records of her were deleted, taking with her the evidence of her nautical expeditions.

Mersa Gawasis. Archaeologists have revealed information about her reign. The pottery and ceramics suggest that it was used as a bivouac – perhaps a base came for the voyages t the mythical land of Punt? Buried in the sand boxes provide a clue. Kathryn Bard says that they were amazed at the find = an inscription of one of the boxes says “the wonderful things of Punt”. Now desert a bay once existed there. At a cave in a coral terrace Cheryl Ward an archaeologist who specializes in ancient boats finds dozens of coiled ropes left by ancient seafarers. They are astonishingly well preserved – as though they were left yesterday. The archaeologists were the first to see them in 4000 years. Most precious find was a wooden plank that looks as though it was part of a boat just beneath the prow. Several dozen marine timbers were unearthed during the excavation.

Why would Queen Hatshepsut have mounted such an ambitious expedition? [Acting] Before she became pharaoh she was a princess, the eldest daughter of Queen Ahmose and Thutmose I. She was married to her half brother who inherited the throne soon after their marriage. He fell ill and died soon after his coronation. Her stepson was too young to become pharaoh so she became regent. It is suggested that the expedition to Punt was a way of establishing and reinforcing her power in Egypt.

Cheryl Ward believed that she needed to reconstruct a boat to challenge those who doubted that the boats would be seaworthy. She teamed up with Tom Vosmer who is both a ship builder and archaeologist. He has supervised replicas of a number of sailing vessels and lives in Oman where he sails old boats of Indian Ocean.

Ward and Vosmer next visited Paris to research how to create a boat when almost no physical trace of it exists? A few planks and other physical remains and a depiction of it at Deir el Bahri. There was no bitumen, pitch, resin etc surviving.

The next stop was a visit to Deir el Bahri. Huge seagoing ships are shown with crews of rowers, sailors and cargo loaders together with the cargo. Ward describes the reliefs as “A treasure house of info about the seafaring”. There is also some info which is difficult to interpret in the images which is “a bit of a mystery” (Tom Vosmer). They are the only known images of the ancient vessel but they are incomplete because only show vessel from one side. But the Mersa Gawasis finds of wooden planks and rudders were almost identical to the boat in the reliefs. Ward and Vosmer concluded that boat drawn to scale on basis of existing knowledge – and their measurements put the ships at just over 20m long. [I was surprised at how short that would make them].

The next part of the show leaves the boats for a minute and looks at Hatshepsut being transformed from female to male with all of a Pharaoh’s appearance and paraphernalia. She also needed to form good relationships with powerful priests of Egypt. The narration suggests that Punt expedition would bring back items desired by priests, including incense.

The oracle was consulted and Senenmut was commanded to built 5 ships with sails. 3500 years later Ward and Vosmer study Giza ship of Khufu at Giza (43m), much older than that of Hatshepsut but with some similarities in construction methods.

The next stop was Cairo Museum to see model boats for hull shapes and sails, and a fishing boat excavated at Dashur. Similar length. Width 5m.

The ship was generated graphically using a computer model by Patrick Couser, the Naval Architect for the project, and then produced as a physical model using the computer model and a 3D modelling device. Around 45 planks on each side would have been required and it was important to understand how they fit together to form an integrated whole.

A family of Nile shipwrights living outside Alexandria in Rashid were commissioned to build the boat. They were shown the model with suggested planking in place. The boat was built using ancient techniques – with no books these had to be reinvented. [This is some of the most fascinating footage in the programme]. Egyptian archaeologist Mohammed Abd El Maguid stayed after 3 months had passed and Tom Vosmer and Cheryl Ward had returned home and he took extensive notes during the built. An elaborate mortise and tenon system was used to hold the boat together, but curvature of planks made for serious complications because the fit had to be absolutely perfect. The idea is that when wood swells after launch the ship will become watertight.

Hatshepsut chose Nahisi as captain, a man who had served her father.

Anchors had engravings of divine protection.

David Vann will skipper it on Red Sea. Vann describes the vessel as short, fat, and difficult to handle. He saw the big cracks in the hull and was seriously worried about it because he sank in a metal boat with cracks but although reassured by wooden experts that the wood would expand to fill the cracks he was still concerned.

Rigging shown at Deir El Bahri shows intertwined ropes and knots and a complicated relationship between ropes and masts. No other images exist.

Cheryl Ward travels to Lake Burullus for search of a clue. The way that the mast is fixed to the hull is intriguing and Cheryl Ward says that it is “another one of those times when you can touch the past” because the system seems so similar.

At launch the ship building family express their delight. [The complete hull launched into the sea is a lovely thing but looks tiny]. The water comes in quickly and instantly floods the boat but two weeks are predicted for the hull to expand sufficiently to become water tight. After two weeks it takes twelve hours to pump out the boat. In the morning, however, the boat is again filled with water. In spite of everyone’s hard work it is necessary to find a solution to the problem. How can the boat me made watertight using an authentic technique? The shipyard provides the solution – linen fibre stuffed between planks as a way of waterproofing. Beeswax was also added (based on Greek ship building traditions). Both were available in the Delta throughout Dynastic Egypt. 10 months in and the rudders are made. In the streets of Rashid the rigging is made – several kilometres of rope in different thicknesses.

Raising of the mast was a subject of great celebration, and quite right too! Lovely. But the ropes hanging from the mast are all over the place! Ship was christened Min.

A statue of Hatshepsut and Amun was created before the sailing to Punt as a gift to that land’s inhabitants.

Almost a year after construction Min is ready for her maiden voyage. [The linen and wax seem to have worked – she is afloat! But unless I missed a bit, it is not confirmed that the linen and wax alone made her seaworthy] But lots of other questions remain to be answered about the journey to Punt.

Rope system causes much confusion initially but four lines pull the sail and four change its direction. The others are not used for navigation.

The small sail had to be used when wind too strong (smaller surface area) and that puts extra stress on the rudders, and the conditions are much rougher. In Tom Vosmer’s words “she wallows like a pig” but that was unsurprising in the conditions. She stayed afloat.

An earlier journey by Henu, it is speculated, must have been know of by Hatshepsut and Senenmut but the records do not reveal the location of Punt which could have been in Eritrea, Yemen or elsewhere. If she could not sail against the sea she could not reach the far side, Yemen, so this was necessary to test. Proved that she was capable of tacking, and could make progress in spite of variations in the wind which means she could have reached either side of the Red Sea.

Cheryl Ward says that even living through a small part of the journey demonstrates the ingenuity, creativity, intelligence and craftsmanship of the builders and crew and says that it is a humbling experience.

The procession of ostrich feathers, woods, panthers, cheetahs, myrrh trees and other resins and many other things were depicted on the walls of Deir El Bahri.


pat said...

The boat was more than "sketched out" I designed the hullform, did a very detailed mass estimate as well as the stability calculations and also the scantlings for the mast and spars. For more information on the design of the vessel see the RINA Historic ships conference, London November 2009.
Best regards, Patrick Couser.
Naval Architect for the project.

Andie said...

Hello Patrick. Thanks very much for the correction. I did warn that the notes were a bit rough! I wrote "sketched out" because I was trying to avoid using the word "modelled", which was in my original notes. This was because I thought it might cause confusion with my next remark about it being physically modelled. I had a stinking cold at the time or I might have been a bit more careful about the phrasing. I've corrected the text now. I'll try to track down the URL for the conference unless you have it to hand?.