On this day in 1954, one of the oldest and largest boats on earth was found buried near Egypt’s biggest pyramid. Doodle celebrates the discovery of the Khufu Ship, which has survived more than 4,600 years, although its true purpose remains a mystery.
Digging under a stone wall on the south side of the Great Pyramid of Giza, archaeologist Kamal el-Mallakh unearthed a row of massive limestone blocks covering a rectangular pit. Inside the airtight enclosure were neat piles of cedar planks, along with the ropes and matting needed to rebuild the vessel.
The painstaking process of reassembling over 1,200 pieces was overseen by Haj Ahmed Youssef, a restorer from the Egyptian Department of Antiquities, who studied models found in ancient tombs as well as visiting modern shipyards along the Nile. Over a decade later, the ingeniously designed vessel, measuring 143 feet long and 19.6 feet wide, was fully restored without using a single nail.
Experts agree that the ship was built for Khufu (known to the Greeks as Cheops), the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Egypt, who is entombed inside the pyramid. Some say the ship was used to ferry the pharaoh’s body to his final resting place. Others think it was placed in the location to help transport his soul to heaven, similar to “Atet,” the barge that carried Ra, the Egyptian god of the sun across the sky.
Still others believe the ship is a sort of “black box” containing clues to the construction of the pyramids. These scholars argue that the asymmetrical ship was designed to be used as a floating crane capable of lifting large stone blocks. Wear and tear on the wood suggests that the boat had more than a symbolic purpose. While the mystery is still up for debate, the ancient ship can now be viewed at the Giza Solar Boat Museum, located just a few meters away from where it was found 65 years ago.