Wednesday, 17 July 2013

A Boat a Day (no.352)

Boats on the Ancient Sea...

We are all told of Christopher Columbus’ pioneering adventure to the New World, before 1942 the Americas were untouched by western civilisation. But how long has man been navigating the oceans? Was this really the first contact between our ancient ancestors? There is strong evidence to suggest otherwise. What about Leif Erikson, a Norse explorer who discovered Vinland, (suggested to be Newfoundland in North America.) His adventure was recorded in ancient Norse Sagas and can easily be dismissed as little more than legends. Yet archaeological evidence has been found to support the appearance of Norse settlements in North America 500 years before Columbus’ discovery.
From logs to dugouts and rafts to reed boats.
500 years isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that hard to believe someone could have sailed across the Atlantic at this point in history. But then the question is would it have been possible for man to conquer the ocean before this? What if it was more like 40,000 years ago when Australia was first inhabited by humans?
It’s not a great leap of the imagination to see ancient man travelling the waterways on pole-rafts and dugout canoes; archaeology has provided evidence of log boats as old as 10,000 years. The ancient Egyptians left relief carvings of Reed Boats ferrying crops and animals and even Pharaohs down the Nile. Recent fragments found in caves near the Red Sea provide evidence that the Ancient Egyptians were travelling vast distances across sea up to 4000 years ago, transporting precious cargo in wooden ships. An even more astonishing find in Kuwait is a 7000 year old sea-faring boat made of reeds and tar.

In 1969 an expedition was led by Thor Heyerdahl to replicate one of those ancient Egyptian reed boats and take it across the Atlantic Ocean from Morocco to Barbados. He gathered a team of helpers from all different background and used the reliefs and carvings in the Pyramids of Giza as a blueprint. They used traditional methods and ingenuity to create a vessel, which was transported (with much pomp and ceremony), to Morocco to starts its voyage. This was to be a first attempt, their reed boat Ra sailed across turbulent oceans and held its own against the elements, some things in the ‘blueprints’ had puzzled Thor and his team until they were at sea when it became clear to them that the Egyptians peculiar design was specific to the harsh conditions of ocean-going.
Ra I on her voyage across the Atlantic
Ra didn’t make it to its destination, after a good fight there were just too many errors and the boat began to sag and capsize. But the team regrouped, and in 1971 Ra II was launched with a few adjustments, they saw now that every detail was important, each rope which had seemed to lead nowhere supported the boats bulk and kept it in shape. Ra II sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Morocco to Barbados, carrying a crew on a bed of reeds. Its unique design blueprinted by Ancient Egypt in the pyramids and other sites, proof that it was possible for our ancestors to navigate between continents.

But the evidence of Ancient Mariners doesn’t start and end with Egypt...

(to be continued.)

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