First Intermediate Period- Middle Kingdom, Dynasty XI- early Dynasty XII (ca 2050-1947 BC)
Provenance: Assiut, Tomb of Shemes, Schiaparelli excavations, 1908
a country such as Egypt that occupied and depended on a narrow strip of fertile land either side of the river, it is understandable that the single most important mode of travel and transport was the boat. Even the sun was imagined to have traversed the sky in a boat, the sun bark. Two types of model boats were included in tombs; either those with ceremonial hulls, or the working papyrus skiff. Boats with collapsed rigging on deck symbolised the northward journey, following the south to north current of the Nile, whereas those with upright mast and sails represented the southward journey, against the current. This boat, from the tomb of Shemes, was meant to transport the deceased magically to the land of Osiris, god of the Underworld, in Abydos. As Assiut is north of Abydos, the skiff would have been sailing against the current and therefore relying on its sails. Indeed, on this model three sailors stand at the mast (now lost) in the act of raising the sails, and just behind them is an open sun canopy with two seated figures, probably representing the deceased in the company of a priest or his son acting as priest. Seated behind them is a helmsman, and standing at the bow is a cluster of lookout crew. The figures are all depicted with dark red skin, short black hair held in place by the ‘boatman’s circlet’ and they wear white kilts. The white rectangles on the deck represent the movable planking (rowers normally started their long stroke standing and ended it by sitting on the thwarts between the removed planks). A large wedjat-eye (the falcon eye of Horus, which wicked Seth had torn to pieces, but Thoth restored) is painted on the side of the skiff in order to ward off evil.