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Egypt - timeless land of the Pharaohs.
Born amidst the sands of the Sahara.
A kingdom which derived its power from the River Nile.
But legend has it that its first female Pharaoh, Queen Hatshepsut,
had ambitions far beyond these shores.
Her aim, to conquer the sea.
At Luxor, in the temple where she's entombed,
a bas-relief illustrates the voyage of five royal ships
she sent to a land named Punt,
returning laden with fabulous riches.
To put a boat on the sea, if it's going to float,
and it's going to make it, say, down to Punt and back
is a greater achievement, in many ways,
than building a pyramid which just sits there.
Did it really happen?
Or is it a myth?
For the first time archaeologists will attempt to recreate the voyage
in a full-size replica of one of those ancient ships.
The team's first challenge, to figure out
how the queen's ship designers could have built seaworthy vessels
nearly 3,500 years ago.
We have to find out in only one year
what they have had thousands of years to learn.
And it is a daunting task.
Using only ancient techniques,
can they build a boat to withstand the stormy seas?
If they succeed,
it may help prove the Ancient Egyptians navigated the Red Sea
to lands far beyond.
Hatshepsut's life is shrouded in mystery.
She was the first woman to reign over Egypt 1,500 years before Christ
and long before Queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra.
She governed for more than 20 years
during a period of relative peace and prosperity.
But after her death,
Hatshepsut's memory was deliberately and savagely destroyed.
Murals bearing her portrait were desecrated,
temple statues were smashed.
No-one knows why.
The first Queen of Egypt disappeared from official history,
taking with her the secrets of her nautical expedition to Punt.
Exciting new discoveries by an international archaeological team
have revived the debate over Queen Hatshepsut's seafaring adventures.
We thought it would be broken, but it's complete.
So it's very unique.
We found it in an area where there was much domestic activity.
It was associated with the fire pit, actually, with bones and...
So definitely domestic or even, let's say, culinary activities.
The pottery and ceramics excavated here
suggest this place was used as a bivouac.
Could it have been the base camp
for voyages to the mythical land of Punt?
Buried in the sand, a set of wooden boxes provides an important clue.
The first time I saw these boxes I was... I was truly astonished.
We had no idea that anything like this existed,
would be here still, after 3,800 years.
We found an inscription on one of the boxes that in translation said,
"The wonderful things of Punt."
So that could not be a better answer to what they were used for.
Did the ancient mariners cast off for Punt
from the bay that once existed here?
Could they have left other traces of their presence?
At Mersa Gawasis in a cave hewn into a coral terrace,
Cheryl Ward, an archaeologist who specialises in ancient boats,
makes a spine-tingling discovery.
Dozens of coiled ropes left in the caves
by ancient seafarers nearly 4,000 years ago.
I think there were several of us who had tears come to our eyes
the first time we saw this.
It was so incredible, so unbelievable.
We are all as amazed, I think, as Howard Carter must have been
when he saw the treasures of Tutankhamun.
The sense of the ancient Egyptians was so present.
They left it here.
We were the first to see it in 4,000 years.
But the most precious find is a wooden plank
whose distinctive shape immediately reminds Cheryl
of the boats depicted at Luxor.
Which part of the boat is this one?
This is from the Punt relief, of course.
And what we see is this is the plank that can fit exactly here.
And it touches here on the centre of strake.
Several dozen marine timbers are unearthed
over the course of the excavation
and they are to be treated as delicately
as if they were human mummies.
So this way, yeah? To the other cave.
The ancient mariners apparently set sail from these shores
for the Land of Punt.
But why would Queen Hatshepsut have ordered
such an ambitious expedition?
Before she became a Pharaoh, Hatshepsut was a princess.
The eldest daughter of King Thutmose I and Queen Ahmose.
To preserve the royal bloodline,
her father decided she would marry her half-brother,
who inherited the throne soon after their union.
But soon after his coronation, he fell ill and died.
The young Queen Hatshepsut was now a widow
with a stepson too young to become Pharaoh.
So Hatshepsut became Regent, taking the reins of the kingdom.
But she was a woman.
Would patriarchal Egypt accept a female leader?
Hatshepsut's challenge was to impose her power
and mounting a spectacular expedition at sea
was one way to do it.
The discoveries made at Mersa Gawasis
have rekindled the controversy
over the seafaring capacity of Ancient Egypt.
Many of Cheryl's fellow researchers are sceptical of the find's value,
arguing the items are not clearly dated and don't prove anything.
They believe the voyage to Punt never really happened.
How could she prove her case?
Cheryl believes her only option is to reconstruct one of the boats
in Hatshepsut's fleet,
based on the archaeological finds from Mersa Gawasis.
That way they'll know whether the boat was seaworthy.
And a whole range of tools and some very good ship...
To carry out her project, Cheryl teams up with Tom Vosmer,
a ship-builder who is also an archaeologist.
-Is there any racing system on this?
-No. We probably need two sails then.
Tom has designed and supervised the building of several replicas
of ancient sailing vessels.
He lives in Oman in the Middle East,
where he studies the old boats of the Indian Ocean.
When I was growing up, my father had a hobby of building ship models.
There were old ship models all around the house that he had built
and I've been fascinated by old ships, by the sea, by sailing
as long as I can remember.
And although I grew up 800 miles from the sea,
the first chance I got to leave home I went and I just went sailing.
Cheryl and Tom's investigation
begins in the Maritime Museum in Paris.
The two researchers know that building a 3,500-year-old replica
of Hatshepsut's boat presents a tremendous challenge.
How can they recreate a ship
when practically no physical trace of it exists?
All they have right now are a few planks,
some ropes, several anchors
and a reproduction of the bas-relief in Deir el-Bahri.
Figuring out how to make this ship watertight
is going to be one of the major goals I have.
Any caulking, luting, anything like that?
There is no sign of caulking, nothing jammed in between the seams.
There's no bitumen, there's no resin, there's no pitch, there's nothing.
I mean, to put a boat on the sea, it's going to float,
it's going to make it, say down to Punt and back,
is a greater achievement in many ways
than building a pyramid which just sits there.
I think one of the things we need to do now is to go to Deir el-Bahri
and look very carefully at the reliefs there.
These are sea-going ships. They're great sea-going ships.
They're huge. They are work ships.
They have people who are rowing, people who are sailing.
They have the cargos piled up.
As soon as they land, they begin to unload.
They are a veritable treasure house of information about the seafaring.
There's a lot of perhaps confusing things as well.
But we haven't quite sorted out what they're trying to depict exactly
and I think we'll get to that when we start building models
and have the actual things in front of us.
And we can then we can sort out what those images are actually telling us
and in some cases where it's a bit of a mystery.
If we can get some of the basic measurements down,
that'll help a lot, too, because they seem to be proportional.
These bas-reliefs are the only known images of the ancient vessel.
But they're not complete.
They only show the boat from one side.
In Mersa Gawasis, Cheryl found wooden planks and a rudder
whose shape was identical to the one on Hatshepsut's boats.
Knowing ancient Egyptians averaged 1.65m in height,
Cheryl and Tom conclude
the bas-relief has in fact been drawn to scale.
Now they can calculate the length of the ancient ship.
Hatshepsut's boats must have measured a little over 20 metres.
Hatshepsut knew that to rise from the rank of Regent to Pharaoh,
she would have to undergo a spectacular metamorphosis.
To appear as a genuine monarch,
she needed to relinquish her femininity,
don the short kilt worn by kings,
put on a false beard and wear the Pharaoh's crown.
She also knew her success would depend on forging good relationships
with the powerful priests of Egypt.
An expedition to the Land of Punt, though risky,
might succeed in bringing back a valuable gift for the priests -
large quantities of myrrh, the rare and highly sought-after incense
they used daily in their temple ceremonies.
An oracle had been sent by the gods.
Hatshepsut ordered her royal steward Senenmut to build five ships,
outfitted with sails.
3,500 years later,
Cheryl and Tom embark on the next stage of their journey.
They've come to study a much larger boat
resting at the base of the Cheops Pyramid.
I think that really, ours is going to look a lot like this,
in terms of the general hull shape.
I mean, this is a huge boat..
This impressive 43-metre vessel carried the mummies of pharaohs
down the Nile more than 1,000 years before Hatshepsut's reign.
But in some ways it's very similar.
Cheryl is intrigued by its keel.
It looks so much like the Punt reliefs,
you've got that nice little profile.
Now these are common, I think, in boats that have to be beached
or that are operating in areas where they may have reefs
or other sandy areas, because if you have an ordinary keel
dropping down there like a lot of modern sailboats do,
that keel is gonna get caught on anything that goes by.
The two researchers continue their investigation
at the Cairo Museum.
The display of model boats gives them valuable clues
to the shape of the hulls
and the earliest sails used in ancient times.
So these are Middle Kingdom models
from the very beginning of the Middle Kingdom. Around 2100.
An ancient fishing boat excavated at Dahshur, south of Cairo,
provides some crucial information.
It's very similar to Hatshepsut's boats.
Same shape, same proportions.
Cheryl and Tom can now calculate the approximate width of their boat,
almost five metres.
Now it's time to draw it.
Combining the relics of antiquity with the tools of the 21st century.
In a modelling laboratory in Florida,
the boat takes on a concrete form for the first time.
The next challenge is to figure out how to build it,
based on the evidence found at Mersa Gawasis.
There are a lot of difficulties right now,
because there are literally thousands of decisions to be made.
How long is this plank?
How wide is this plank?
What angle should this shape be?
Every plank is unique.
We have about 45 planks on each side
and they all fit together in an interlocking way.
They're not straight edges,
and that's part of the ancient Egyptian plan
for helping the hull to stay integrated.
Locked together like a jigsaw puzzle.
One of the amazing things, I think, in Western minds anyway,
is that there's no skeleton to build this boat around.
We build the hull plank first
and the planks and the shapes of these planks that I'm working on now
actually determines the shape of the hull.
Not the shape of any frames or moulds or anything like that.
Is it possible to make one?
If Queen Hatshepsut's ships got to Punt, it is possible.
Whether we'll be able to do that is another thing,
but I think if you get a competent shipwright,
they may think it's strange,
but it's certainly possible to work something out like that.
Cheryl has asked her friend,
Egyptian archaeologist Mohamed Abd El Maguid,
to help her find the best shipbuilders.
It seemed an impossible mission,
but after searching for several weeks
he finds some craftsmen keen to take the challenge
of building the vessel.
A family of shipwrights living on the Nile, outside Alexandria.
Boat building here is a family affair,
but have they the skills to do the job?
The oldest shipwright, Mossad,
is the most familiar with traditional building techniques.
Yosri usually works on fishing boats.
Their three brothers, Marrouz, Hassan and Hamdy
will soon join them.
The first step is to study Tom's model.
That's the initial few strakes of planking.
Very nice, Tom.
I'm trying to understand how these all fit together.
These two were very easy. This one is easy.
These two, very difficult.
I think with this model,
they have been able to see in three dimensions
what is perhaps a little bit confusing in two dimensions.
But now they can translate it completely from the drawing to this
and go, "Aha! This is how it works."
Thousands of years after Queen Hatshepsut's reign
the ship-builders of Rashid
are summoning the skills of their ancestors.
The archaeologists know there are no easy shortcuts.
For the project to have credibility,
the boat must be built using ancient techniques.
But it's an enormous challenge.
There's no textbook explaining the methods of the distant past.
The techniques have to be reinvented.
Every boat that's ever been built begins with laying the keel
and the precision with which these shipwrights work
with these very simple tools -
levers, wedges, strings with the plumb bob.
To see this happening here in Egypt where we have the oldest plank boat,
5,000 years old, is very special for me.
What I've really enjoyed about this process is seeing
this whole shipyard come together
and concentrate on this one piece of work.
It's really quite remarkable.
They all know exactly what they're doing.
Here we go again, the third piece.
I mean, it's fantastic, really.
Three months have passed and it's getting hotter by the day.
The temperature has tipped 40 degrees Celsius.
Work has slowed.
Cheryl and Tom have had to return home.
Mohamed is now in charge of overseeing the construction process.
The Egyptian archaeologist becomes the third pillar
of the scientific team.
Examination of the planks discovered at Mersa Gawasis
reveal the ancient Egyptians didn't use nails or metal.
They fastened the pieces of wood together
though a complex mortise and tenon system
that our modern boat-builders are attempting to copy.
But as the work progresses, the shape of the planks,
which have to be curved along their length and width,
makes things very complicated.
The rows of tenons and mortises
must be made with greater, more painstaking precision.
The fit must be perfect.
The archaeologists are convinced the ship will become watertight
when the wood swells after being launched.
Two months later, their labour continues, piece by piece.
The pharaoh's fleet needed a captain.
Hatshepsut chose Nehesy,
a valiant soldier who had served her father in the past.
When he agreed to take on this mission,
Nehesy knew he'd be venturing into the dangerous unknown.
The gods alone would decide his fate.
In order to seek their favours,
he had several cartouches of divine protection
engraved on the stone anchors.
And then they've attached it down there. And then they're able...
35 centuries later,
David Vann is the captain who will follow in Nehesy's wake.
It's just... It's going to be so tippy and once it gets rocking...
Before he ventures into the Red Sea,
the skipper comes to take a look at his boat.
I've never sailed anything like this.
This is the kind of boat they were sailing up to 4,000 years ago.
But compared to a boat now, of course, it'll...
The technical term would be a pig. We would call it a pig now.
It's a beamy, heavy, short, fat boat
that's gonna move terribly through the water.
I'm a little worried about this.
I had a crack once in a boat, just a little hairline crack,
and the title of my book about it is A Mile Down,
because that boat sank in 5,000 feet of water,
a big 90 foot, very strong steel boat,
because of a little crack, and these are really big cracks.
I've been reassured by a couple of people that it's OK in wood
to have these cracks from the drying process, it's normal.
I don't know.
A potentially leaky boat is one challenge.
The rigging is another.
The bas-reliefs at Deir el-Bahri show dozens of intertwined ropes
and complex knots keeping the sail attached to the yard.
What is most puzzling is how the ropes are wrapped around the mast.
No other visual image of these boats exists.
The only hope is that these ancestral techniques
have transcended the ages.
Cheryl travels from Alexandria to nearby Lake Borolos
in search of a clue.
So, at Borolos, when I first saw these boats, though,
the first thing that I saw was the short mast
and the yoke on the mast,
because suddenly, I could see the relief from the temple,
and exactly what the function of that yoke around the mast is for.
Because all we see is the little twisted line,
-and in fact, it's the backstay, I think.
I can see some out there right now.
There's no backstay, so that mast yoke is substituting for a backstay.
Lake Borolos has some strange-looking flat sailboats
with short masts and huge sails.
The way the mast is fixed to the hull intrigues the archaeologist.
An enormous knot, made up of several ropes,
reminds her of the rigging seen in the bas-reliefs at Deir el-Bahri.
To me, this is just amazing.
It's another one of those times when you can touch the past.
-Yeah, it's amazing...
-Thousands of years ago.
-The same system.
-People were using the same forces, the same mechanics.
Slightly different material.
Yes, we'll have the mast and then two pieces of wood on either side
and the tie going around the middle,
and that should keep the wood from breaking
-and it should be a very strong attach point for the line.
In just one more month,
the boat must leave the shipyard and head for the Red Sea.
It's down to the wire, as Marrouz and the other shipwrights
put all of their remaining energy into finishing it.
A few minutes after the boat is launched,
water seeps in through the tiniest cracks in the hull.
According to the archaeologists,
the wood should absorb the water and begin to swell.
They predict it will be two weeks
before the hull reaches maximum expansion and becomes watertight.
The boat has now been in the water for two weeks.
After 12 hours, all of the water is finally pumped from the hull.
Mohamed leaves the boat.
But is it watertight now?
Archaeologists have never found any evidence
to show that the Egyptians ever caulked their boats.
So how can they make the boat watertight
using an authentic ancient technique?
What did the Egyptians do?
Mohamed and Tom will find the answer to their problem
right in the shipyard itself.
So this is linen fibre.
I wonder what would happen if we put this between our planks?
For hundreds of years, people here have been stuffing plant fibre
into the cracks between planks of wood
as a method of waterproofing.
In ancient times, other seafaring peoples
such as the Greeks used beeswax to make their boats watertight.
So why not use beeswax as well?
With no other alternative or additional archaeological evidence,
this becomes their chosen option.
The boat has now been under construction for ten months.
The final touches are being made.
Two rudders are carved out of huge pieces of wood.
Cotton sails, each measuring 15 metres in width, are woven.
In the streets of Rashid, a dozen men are busy making the rigging.
Using strands of hemp fibre,
they twist together several kilometres of rope
in different thicknesses.
Now it's yours.
Now it's yours.
I'm really amazed to be at this point,
to see this mast up finally.
And I just...
I mean, we've been waiting and waiting, organising this
and finally, OK, here it is, the mast is up.
Now I'm just anxious to get on with the rest of it, you know.
Why do we have to break for lunch?
I want to get the yards on board, sort out this mess of lines,
make some order out of it and just get on with it.
Before it leaves the shipyard,
the boat is christened Min
in honour of a fertility god in the Egyptian pantheon.
A few days before the original expedition set sail,
Queen Hatshepsut had the temple priests create a statue of herself
with the god Amun.
It would be offered as a token of friendship
by the expedition's captain to the inhabitants of the Land of Punt.
The winds were blowing in the right direction
when messengers brought the news to the queen
that her fleet was finally ready to sail.
All they required was her signal.
She gave the order for the ships to depart.
Almost a year after construction began,
Min is ready for her maiden voyage.
What seemed an impossible challenge has become reality.
The boat engraved in bas-relief at Deir el-Bahri
has come back to life 3,500 years after its first expedition.
But now they are out on the open sea, new questions arise.
Will the boat weather the gusty winds?
Is it strong enough to withstand the swells of the Red Sea?
Will it find the route Hatshepsut's fleet took
to reach the Land of Punt?
Yeah. I want to just go straight downwind first,
see how it is, what the speed is,
then we can change a little, see how the speed is,
-just try to learn today.
One of the crew's primary concerns is the rigging.
The archaeologists have recreated, as faithfully as possible,
the sail and mast system seen in the Deir el-Bahri bas-relief.
But getting a hang of the ropes isn't easy.
When you look at the sail, it looks like we have a lot of lines going,
and it's very confusing and complicated.
The 16 below and six above, we never change those,
they just they stay in place.
So it's a much simpler rig than it looks like
when you first look at it.
We only have four lines to pull up the sail,
and two lines, really, to control side to side
and two others that we don't really use, but that's it.
So it's really simple, much simpler than it looks.
The boat seems to be going really well right now.
We're surfing on some of these swells
down to, you know, seven, eight knots sometimes,
and getting a nice push from behind with the wind.
It's going really well.
Min's voyage is a faraway echo
of the journey Hatshepsut's fleet may have undertaken.
At sundown, Nehesy's fleet probably lowered sails
and came back to shore to rest,
get their bearings, find water and cook.
Tonight Min is at anchor in a sheltered bay.
How would Hatshepsut's crew have felt?
Were they anxious about the sailing conditions,
the strength of the breeze, or where they were headed?
Did they fear for their lives?
Hatshepsut nervously awaited Nehesy's return.
The accounts of past expeditions made her anxious.
Nehesy had warned her
that she'd be waiting months before receiving news.
Would her five ships succeed in reaching the land of the gods
and return safely?
Most of us didn't sleep at all last night.
Min was rocking really wildly and there was a lot of wind,
and today there's too much wind to do the full sail.
There's about 20 knots of wind,
and that's too much for our main sail,
so we'll have to take that down and put up just a very small sail.
And I think it'll be rougher on the rudders today.
I think there'll be bigger waves.
So not a lucky turn of events for us,
because we've only had a couple of days on this boat,
and it'd be nice if the conditions could remain a little lighter.
So we'll see.
Anticipating bad conditions,
David and Cheryl had a second heavy-weather sail made.
Its smaller surface area should work better in strong winds.
However, the crew is apprehensive about going out to sea this morning.
Will Min cope in the wind and waves?
The success of the project depends on her ability
to withstand these conditions.
OK, we need to do something pretty quickly here.
The waves are about...
We had about six to eight feet earlier.
We did have a few bigger ones,
and then a few that came in sets of two or three
and pushed us around quite a bit,
our starboard rail was even with the water,
we took some water over the port rail, so that was exciting.
I thought she rode the waves really well.
Rolls like a pig, but you'd expect that with this whole ship, really.
What I'm really amazed at is that I'm not seasick.
At the end of the day, the cracking sounds at the rear of the boat
are the only signal
she's been through some tough sailing conditions.
A few waves did throw her off balance,
but Min was able to reach the place where they'd planned to camp.
For the crew, this is a first success.
We had a few minutes today when we were coming into harbour tonight
where it was very tempting,
and the first mate said to me,
"You know, we could just put some lights on this ship and take off.
"We could sail a long way".
The archives in Egypt contain a papyrus
on which it is written that, 400 years before Hatshepsut,
a steward named Henu went on an expedition to the Land of Punt.
The pharaoh, her royal steward, Senenmut,
and her captain, Nehesy, must have known about this journey.
Henu's papyrus describes the events of his journey,
but it does not reveal the location of the Land of Punt.
Studies of wind and current patterns for the Red Sea
show that they travel southward from June to September,
making them favourable for departing vessels.
Is Punt to be found somewhere in Africa?
Modern Sudan, or in Eritrea?
Or is it on the other side of the Red Sea,
in Yemen or the Arabian peninsula?
To answer this question,
Cheryl and Tom need to know what Min is capable of doing.
Can she sail against the wind,
allowing her to reach the far side of the Red Sea?
Or is she only able to sail dead before the wind,
forcing her to remain close to the coast?
On modern boats, it is the rudder,
combined with the action of the sail
that enables the crew to change direction.
For Min, the matter is more complicated
because of her shallow keel.
Her crew needs to find out whether she can change course
by filling or flattening the sail,
and by turning it in different directions in relation to the hull.
A new experiment gets underway.
After a few days of tests and adjustments,
Min is able to do much more than run before the wind.
She tacks, points her stern towards the open sea
and heads back towards the coast.
The fact that the boat can make progress,
despite variations in the wind,
tells us that the Land of Punt could have been Sudan or Yemen.
Min pursues her journey.
The strong wind that was blowing for several days has now eased,
leaving a heavy swell that challenges the boat and her crew.
But they're in luck again.
The swell settles and their journey continues.
Day after day, the crew put Min to the test.
They rediscover the actions of the ancient seafarers
as if they had sailed back through time.
They were in a world that they knew much better than I know,
and they had the ability to stop and wait
when the winds are up, like today.
And yet they also knew where they were going,
exactly what they would find there.
And still, it was a huge journey for them.
The chance to repeat one small part of it,
even if we can't go all the way to the Land of Punt,
brings all of us that much closer to really appreciating
the ingenuity, the creativity, the intelligence, the skills,
the craftsmanship of our ancient predecessors,
and it's a very humbling experience.
When Hatshepsut's fleet returned,
most of the population made it to the shore
to see the ships laden with extraordinary treasures.
There was a dazzling procession of precious woods,
rings of gold, semi-precious gems,
ivories, animal hides and ostrich feathers,
and a menagerie of animals - giraffes, panthers and cheetahs.
And among these marvels,
the most valuable of all were the 31 live myrrh trees
and other fragrant resins that Nehesy had brought back from Punt.
Hatshepsut had all that she wished for.
The precious incense from Punt
had gained her the favours of the priests of Amun.
Their appeasement allowed her to rule unchallenged
-for more than two decades.
Hatshepsut, whose memory was desecrated
and whose name was expunged from the roll call of pharaohs,
could have been wiped for ever from Egypt's history.
Could she have imagined
that many thousands of years after her death,
her fleet's voyage would be so lovingly recreated
and her legacy raised from oblivion?
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