Relief fragment depicting a ship under sail - 958.49.3_1


Relief fragment depicting a ship under sail

Geography: Excavated from the Pyramid of Amenemhat I at Lisht, Egypt
Date: c. 2613-2345 BC
Period: 4th or 5th Dynasty, Old Kingdom
44 x 61.3 cm
Object number: 958.49.3
On view
Gallery Location:Galleries of Africa: Egypt

This finely carved relief fragment in multiple pieces is from a large navigation scene, probably from a royal funerary temple in the Memphite area. At the base is a strip of water indicated by vertical zig-zag lines. Above this is the bottom part of a boat moving to the right. What is preserved is the bow and bottom of the mast of a boat with a blunt prow. A small bit of the forestay attached to a ring on the deck can be seen at the prow. There are about ten oars leaning diagonally across the top of the hull secured by lines which run from the bottom of the pointed blade to the oarlocks on the hull. Portions of six men are preserved on the relief. Two men are standing near the prow, possibly the pilot and a man behind him handing a bit of rope which can be seen crossing his thigh.  Behind the mast is a group of four men standing close together wearing loin clothes with three ties at the front.  They seem to be sailors who are adjusting the sails of the vessel as the second from the right is clearly pulling on a rope leading upwards. Behind them are four further ropes which presumably are attached to the sail. It is presumably a river-boat as the hogging truss and girt ropes typical of seafaring vessels are lacking.  The relief is very high quality, probably from a royal funerary temple. Comparable reliefs are found in the 5th Dynasty funerary complex of King Sahure at Abusir.

This block was recovered from the Pyramid of Amenemhat I at Lisht. Amenemhat I is the first king of the 12th Dynasty, who moved the capital north from Thebes to the region of Lisht, south of Memphis. No doubt the royal architects examined previous royal funerary structures in the Memphite area to gain ideas for the plan, decorative program and perhaps even building techniques for the new structure. After a period of abandonment in the First Intermediate Period, it is likely that many of these structures were in disrepair, perhaps having been damaged by an earthquake.  In any case, the builders of the Lisht Pyramid of Amenemhat I were clearly able to collect blocks from older buildings which they incorporated into the structure of Amenemhat I’s tomb. It may just have been a practical matter of reused material, although some scholars have suggested that the re-used blocks could have served to connect Amenemhat I with previous kings in an attempt to legitimize his reign.

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