Ritual boats and early ships

Ritual boat and early ships

Our ancestors saw part of the night sky as seas. They connected their time-law to the asterisms. Then it was natural to see time as a river and our life as a journey on the Time River. That is why it is difficult to know in which part of space they sail.

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Sumerian ritual boat or ?

First a look on some clearly ritual boat concerning time and we begin naturally first in Sumer.

On this seal we have an enthroning Enki wrapped in Watergate and Daddy Longleg carries him on the water. So the long leg is of course the Water-snake.

Anyhow this is surely a ritual boat and about abstract things with physic appearance. The outlook is implying time and phenomenon like water circulation in the biosphere. In the picture only the sun is needed to get growth. This picture just to remember they thought in spacetime. The long-legged is surely Cancer.

In Dendera, Egypt Leo stands on Water-snake and that might be the original position when the ecliptic follows Water-snake. In Babylonian symbolism Ahura Mashda stands on something like a snake. For us expressing it in space-time to say that it is the sowing time and the beginning of growing would be easier.

From this seal we see they also used figureheads and they are related to time of course. The river is probably Watergate

The River, the Flood and the Seas as ritual concepts have to be understood for the most. Sumerian and Egyptian rivers were not evil Mights since the rivers most of the year flow smoothly and give peace to the landscape.

In Egypt they pictured the Nile as Hapi, the Big Eater with big stomach and breast that nourished the Egyptians ... we see the Big Eater in some carvings in Bohuslaen too. In our landscape seas, rivers and climate become real Mights.

Still, since they created the concept time, seeing time flow as a river and man sailing by the events is easy. In the texts from Ugarit Syria the new god Baal hit Yam, the Sea also called the Judge and Flood. The poems tell about a fight between the Mights, which are incarnations of reality.

There is no flood in Ugarit, so we have to ask if they got their inspiration from the big river-land, which was their partner in trade? For the people along the river seeing the flood, as a judge was easy. Or did they mean the heavenly Flood? ... If we leave out the translated names, it could be any fight between neighbours and also in Hollywood.

They had a lot of guts when daring this whale game in Salauruga North Karelia. About 2000 BC.

In our carvings seeing the calendar and ritual boat when they are arranged in an array is easy. It is more difficult when explanations have surrounded or half-covered them by younger layers of carvings. The total era of carvings is approximately from fifth millennium to the Roman time. At this stage we have only to understand the system in it. The more variants we get the better we can explain and make a chronology.

The first theory among scientists was that they made them during a short time in Bronze Age and that they were agriculture rock-carvings. When they did not find many sure pictures of agriculture at all, they tried to see magic in the odd figures.

If I polemize against something, it is about the preconceived meanings that our northern culture was primitive and isolated. One thing is right that they made most of the rock-carvings during Bronze Age. That is depending on the sparse population earlier in Stone Age with fewer to knock pictures. The pictures are knocked in and not carved, but some used the word carving and so it is.

Yet the fast information man got from south amazes me. For instance earlier they thought the wheel was a real sign of culture. I compare with my youth when they saw me as a coming engineer. It was because I could separate all parts in my bicycle and get them together again.

Now we know that the wheel was almost instantly in Denmark as in Near East. They made roads for the wheel too. Later when the Speedy Gonzales with his horse came, they investigated and separated the cart. Perhaps they thought that what on earth should we use that to. We have not the long roads needed for speeders in our stony terrain. They made most of it as always among peasants used to be keen about their owning and not let things be unused.

I think with more knowledge we will see more evidence about that fact. That is why I try to date the carvings as well as possible. Then remember that they made the first cultural imports in pace with the rest of the Old World in fourth millennium.

Boats or ships concerning the space-time have the base composition a line divided with strokes. Sometimes the strokes are units and sometimes they are algebraic units to be multiplied with a factor to get the real figure. In other cases the stroked line is only a symbol as for instance for a moon.

Symbols in stern and stem

To that we can add that stern and stem can be furnished with a symbol to mark "to and fro".

Sometimes only either of them. In the upper ship it is a hind in one end. In the other end it is perhaps a horned snake. On the lower ship the dogs outside maybe marks an end of the season. These marks are often to be understood as they always rationalised away unnecessary symbols to get a better overlook, I suppose.

The third part is the cargo and could be only the strokes and what they symbolise. It is also the suite or the members of a suite and other ritual symbols. On this ships it may be a bird or an acrobat for which and whatever it might stand.

In Sumer we see the boats on the river with gods as cargo. Since we know, they are idols for happenings in space-time the river can only be Time in the meaning of a reference to our doings. Both in Sumer and Egypt many of the gods have their boat on earth or in heavens. We know that the moon goddess Inanna flied in her heavenly boat and Enki travelled from Eridu to Nippur in his boat. Both are virtual idol/ gods. From Enumah Elish Babylon we know about the ritual with the god statue sailing 16 miles between holy places. From the very beginning Egypt = the Two Land were kept together by ritual and Horus visited both centres.

"I will admire its green cedars. Let the lands of Meluha, Magan and Dilmun look upon me, upon Enki. Let the Dilmun boats be loaded (?) with timber. Let the Magan boats be loaded sky-high. Let the magilum boats of Meluha transport gold and silver and bring them to Nibru (Nippur) for Enlil, king of all the lands." … Creation hymn of water god Enki at Eridu.

Meluha was some town in Indus maybe Mohenjo Daro; Magan at Oman furnished copper for instance and Dilmun was Bahrain. These towns were on the trade route from Susa; Eridu and other cities near today's Kuwait and to Red Sea the wadis to Naqada; to Sinai with turquoise and to the Nile Delta…. See also Phoenician trade

Here we see maybe a real freighting reed-ship from a Sumerian river.

The construction detail with ropes tied to the narrowing end of the construction. There are also figureheads in both ends and we hardly see the plant symbol. This seems to be a tradesman with his cargo and a cow to carry some of his merchandises.

Enki directed his steps on his own to Nippur and entered the Giguna, the shrine of Nippur. Enki reached for the beer, he reached for the liquor. He had liquor poured into big bronze containers, and had emmer-wheat beer pressed out. In kukuru containers which make the beer good he mixed beer-mash. By adding date-syrup to its taste, he made it strong. He …… its bran-mash.

In the shrine of Nippur, Enki provided a meal for Enlil, his father. He seated An at the head of the table and seated Enlil next to An. He seated Nintud in the place of honour and seated the Anuna gods at the adjacent places. All of them were drinking and enjoying beer and liquor. They filled the bronze aga vessels to the brim and started a competition, drinking from the bronze vessels of Uraš. They made the tilimda vessels shine like holy barges. After beer and liquor had been libated and enjoyed, and after …… from the house, Enlil was made happy in Nippur.

In Sumerian tradition we have the "first-time" events in poems telling about the role models for rulers and people to follow. In myth the oldest town is Nippur with Enlil and Ninlil as the first lovers with their son Sin. Enki, "the first on earth" stepped ashore in Eridu. The poem about his journey to Nippur seems to be a metaphor about trade and inter-city relations at the spring. He loads his big boat with goods from cities along the river upstream. We should not forget Enki's main aspect as the waters on earth and he brings fertility that mostly meant irrigation.

There is another similar and longer poem about the moon god Nanna of Ur visiting Nippur at the spring festival and market. Trade and ritual was the mean and model to keep peace between the independent city states … until some ruler got the idea that he should expand his city … and lost it again. However peace is the normal state…. For Mesopotamian map

They are not many but in our rock-carvings we have some with at least one end tied up as if it were a reed vessel. … but look at Lokeberget

We will never know if they tried to make vessels of reeds also for our waters? A typical Northern detail is the tail seen on most of the carved ship-figures. It is too long to be a fen and we see them separately on many figures.

My guess is that they used Water-snake as symbol through the entire history until Viking Age. Then kingly ships had an animal head in the stem and some they called "Long Snake". Others were dragons and then pure imagination behind the name. The tail becomes an indication of what are stern and stem.

The macho man always needs a carrot or a standard to follow. Man has always shown incredible courage to try everything and for instance sail with small vessels on dangerous waters. If it is not enough, he creates imaginations of dangerous beings everywhere.

Mostly that counts for young men.

They believe they will never die and they have nothing to lose. The rich elderly man becomes more careful. He does not want to die and if, he takes his gods with him to afterlife and build fantastic graves over himself. He sends the young and daring on adventure.

Before that they cut of their hair so they belong to the group with organised haircuts. It is a symbol of a lost individuality. That has always been the rule in civilisation.

They often say that Sumerian boats are known for their right angle ends.

Not the one above from third millennium BC and this is like a normal half moon shaped boat for calm waters from the Sumerian rivers. Still in use, and still in Northern waters too.

I think the shape is depending on the material but mostly upon the waters.

The ritual seals with gods and their company on the time river had no demand for shape. It is natural that a craftsman uses shapes he usually sees and can easily draw.

Two pictures of Indus ships

Seal from Mohenjo Daro India before 2000 BC look like reed ship

The helmsman sits high at left. The ships and high seas boats in Indian Ocean and the Pacific has much in common. The type maybe reached China and North America before 2000 BC.

About the Indus boat we do not know if it were their own invention or if they got influence from Egypt as in other things.

The coastal fishermen's boats are much of the same shape today. Others seem to conserve the Egyptian boat shape. Observe the birds that were their "compasses" when they let them free to search for land.

Sumerian boats in upper row and Egyptian in lower from battle between people in the Nile Delta

Egyptian boats

In my younger days more than 50 years ago we were told that the Egyptians were dumb and believed that the sun god Ra sails in his bark from dawn to sunset. On the other hand clever Egyptologists told us that there are many mystery in ancient Egypt. Nowadays popularising channels on TV make the most to make it all mystery and are hunting scoops. They are exited if they can see some soap operas in Middle and New Kingdom.

We can say they problemize more than necessary and create a new fiction about Egypt. They are never satisfied with answers even when we get the explanation "directly" from those days as for instance the so-called Pyramid texts "Why and for what purpose they made pyramids? Fortunately we have some lines from the pyramid texts giving us a glimpse:


I have stepped on these your beams,

like on a stairway of light.

On that I walk to my mother,

the living Jaret on your brow.


For You the heaven reinforced the sun beams,

so that they may rise to the heaven as the eye of Ra.


These lines tell about the beam towards the star Osiris/Orion and also Ra, the sun as understood. We shall later look at the saying "Ra and Osiris unite in the field". In the texts about the scrutiny just after dead the soul is transformed to the KA-soul, while the BA-soul stays in Duat, the underworld and in the mummy. The KA can then meet Osiris/Orion as the judge. That is if we simplified the crucial moment and this happens at funeral but also when sowing crops. In an abstract manner the seed grow toward Orion and rising the DJED pillar ritually marked that.

In life the KA seems to be much more than the soul and we should include the will. Maybe we should understand it as "to have go" in every sense. In northern myths it is perhaps "the shadow" or the fylgia / follower after dead or simply "memory of man".

Samivel in his book "Trësor de l'Egypte" tells that the pharaohs left only descriptions of resurrection for higher beings like pharaohs, while everyday myths and astronomy we have to guess. Of course temples and other institutions have given us a picture of the yearly rituals. They tell the world of ordinary people in many reliefs and papyruses because those who could afford it wanted the afterlife be as it was in their life.

In the pharaohs case he was of course the companion/ 'stand in' of Osiris and his wife was that of Isis and the deities have incarnations as stars in the sky. Pharaoh and his wife were only for the time being instead of the gods on earth and he was the yearman and ritual leader.

I think the Egyptologists could give us much better translations of many texts. If only they understood the real connection between the heavenly objects and idols in mythology even that pharaohs were instead of the gods. The people were legs or tools for the gods. In poetry they call them the tears of Ra, the Sun. ... We say in the end at funeral that we are born of soil and forget the contribution of sun in a lifetime. We are just "tears of Ra" but also born of the Moon = Rain and mother Earth = soil.

If we really want to understand Sumer and Egypt we must translate the original names/ concepts to the use of those days. Generally only personal names could and should be used as they are. But concept words should be translated and I try to write in the manner Ra, the sun; Inanna, the New Moon/ Rain, Seth, chaos forces = weather conditions and so on

Some names need a long explanation and that shows how the animations shortened the description. Sokar, the Ferryman = process of returning to soil and escape of breath. Their language was poor and it took time before the verbs were created and we need many operators/ small words to make a story. So those reading Egyptian texts make their reconstruction to fit our language, while the original is more like a rebus.

 … the icon for Sokar contends of the Hawk = Ferryman of KA to Orion; the crescent is for Toth, the Scribe and Moon keeping track of time; the Apophis, Underworld Serpent carrying the process of life or resurrection; the Sledge indicate that it happens in the "second world/ Otherworld/ Netherworld"; the Goat is on the other side of the River of Underworld.

This symbol is from late times. Mostly Sokar is pictured as male with hawk head. We have to know resurrection if we want to understand. They belived in afterlife and then sowing and funeral were just the same.

The wholeness in their analysis of space-time included that the sun made a journey to Underworld every night. I think whether we say sun is on the other side of the globe or in Underworld is just a matter of taste and poetry. Whether we says the sun "goes or moves" or if we say it "sails" it is just conventions. Indian texts tell about the heavens as an ocean and in Indus the stars were fishes by the words used. In Swedish we still use the expression "heaven's ocean" for the mighty vault above us.

In the Pyramid Texts we also find some lines about symbolising using boats in Underworld as well as in Upperworld. They speculated much about what happens under the surface and they wanted to create resurrection for seed as well as for buried mankind. That is why we find the Pharaoh under surface

The hidden river/ road of Ament = burial way in Underworld. The great Pharaoh (dead) makes his way over it in his holy boat, and he passes over this road which has no water and none to tow. He makes his way by the words of power of Isis, and by means of the words of power of Shemsu, follower. The utterances of this great god himself act as magical protectors and perform the slaughter of Apep, serpent/ womb in the Duat, Underworld in this circle in his windings of the sky… (from What Is In The Duat /Underworld)

They analysed theoretically the secrets/ wonders of growing and seemingly resurrection. They made step by step analyses and they gave names to steps and animations. There is a separate glyph for 'follower/ followers' that symbolises all kinds of supporting "helpers". From the text we clearly see that this all are "words and fiction" and Isis is the general aspect of fertility and growth as power. 

I purify myself. I assume my pure throne, which is in the sky. I will endure. I assume my pure seat in the bow of the Barque of Ra. It is the sailors who row Ra and it is they who will convey me round the horizon. (Utterance 407).

Most of the important idols/ gods are seen in boats at ritual where they are a part. Such boats symbolise time and periods. In Scandinavian rock-carvings we have the same order that time is usually symbolised using boats. It could hard separate what is real picturing of happenings and what are theoretical and abstract.

After his research Björn Landström made this drawing of a goat ship.

They used the reed boat during fourth and third millennium on the Nile. We see the type in rock carvings too along the Nile or the wadis to the Red Sea. We see them with cargo, chapel, altar, sail, ritual figures and remember that there were no borders between real life and the rituals of the year.

Surprisingly we see it in northern Norway Tröndelag too on these rock-carvings.

This ship maybe gives some explanation to the "doubled" outline. It looks as if they laid the goat over the ship of reeds ... like we say "goat-ship" in two words. More of the doubled ships are found in other places. The puzzling problems are always present.

This ship is typical Egyptian shape and the back oar underlines it.

But the rock-carvings are from northern Norway! Did they in Tröndelag get a model or a papyrus with drawings of Egyptian vessels? Visited Egyptians Norway?

I have not material enough to make a complete investigation of different types of vessels and from where the inspiration came. Either is my experience of vessels just more than I have read. I am brought up inland and I am a shaman from the woods, not a sailor.

Here I only compare some northern types with what I have seen in the material from other cultures. It gives a sense of the culture flow. Naturally most of it is from an undefined Near East and most of it is undated but surely during Bronze Age 2300 BC to 400 BC

Let us begin with this ritual boat from the fashion period with round heads in Sahara paintings.

It was maybe as early as in fifth and fourth millennium BC. We naturally say that the Nile people influenced folks in the Sahara and not the other way around. In fact the Sahara paintings show much wider variety in this style than Egypt. Maybe Egyptians imported salt from Timbuktu?

The main issue is that this is a symbolic marriage in the half-year season. The painter has been very sure on hand and a skilled artist. It shows he is sure about the motive and had time to do a good job. There are too many oars on it to be a real boat. At this time it is supposed they had not invented the oar and used paddles. Observe that paddlers sit looking forward, but the rowers sit mostly with their behind against the stem.

Still, the shape of the boat is typical for the Nile. In a way we can say that the Nile was the creator of the type. First the shores gave the material the reed and the calm flowing Nile gave the shape.

Evidence of three seasons in 4th millennium Naqada.

Vase paintings from Naqada/ Gerzeh and 4th millennium are rich sources to early script symbols and year ritual. The mountain symbol left in upper row seems to be the hot season and it was time of mining, followed by "embracing" and lizard the inundation. Below is the "new moon", hut and growing season

They have made technical measurements with a model of the funeral ship of Khufu. It is 43,4 metres long and displacement about 40 ton and cannot be driven by oars. An armada of smaller vessels must have taken it on tow on its only journey across the river. The model left no surging waves at all. They knew how to build with the water as master and fortunately they had no real winds to take into account.

It is odd when they in our language say the papyrus shapes them. However, the reeds used for the boats demanded for some shapes and constructing details.

Season placket from the time of Horus Djet around 3000 BC. The ship symbolise growth and maybe sailing season

The boat seems to be of reed of the same kind as Ra from the experiment by Thor Heyerdahl. We can only speculate if they saw the inundation as "sailing time" or if this is time-ritual-symbolism in the same way as in Scandinavia. The inundation was festival time and maybe the Horus and his staff visited the towns along the Nile as we know from later times. … see also time-boats and macehead

On another placket there is a Bullhead in stem that could mean that it symbolise spring equinox.

We should not forget votive/ ritual ships with a suite representing a period or followers in the grave in hope for resurrection. We can compare them with Nordic similar ships

The square sail ships

Ritual ship with square sail from ceramic painting pre-dynastic time. Observe the Bull heads on the sail

I suppose the question about when and where they invented the sail is difficult. As usual we have the best and earliest pictures from Egypt. However that does not mean they were the inventors. This picture is clearly a ritual ship. I assume it is the second gateway of the year. That should mean that they were sailing during the inundation at the same time as they worked with mining protected by Hathor the cow.

The condition on the Nile favours sail since they can ride on the Nile downstream. In the other direction there is almost an instant breeze along the valley. It would easy to learn the basics of sailing there

Pot painting with a high seas ship on sail

This painting is probably from before 3000 BC. Compare the later Syrian ships.

Rock carvings from a wadi to the Red Seas.

This is clearly a ship with double steer oars and square sail.

Ships for high seas

This model of the Egyptian vessel was for high seas.

In my younger day I visited a school where they build ships. The first job was to make a model in the same manner as this

We do not know if the Syrian ships were invented for high sea and heavy cargoes.

They tell picture shows Syrian ships in an Egyptian harbour. Maybe it is from Ugarit. But who designed the ship? The model above is Egyptian

This one is from Åmey, West Norway and clearly looking like Syrian ships.

Compare even the silhouette with the Norse ship without sail This rock is eroded so it is hard to say if there have been more details on the ship.

Then we have the Narmer palette with this ship as symbol ca 3000 BC.

Knowing it is difficult, maybe a symbol used to symbolise the end of season? If it is a symbol, it was the common shape of ships at the time. From the same time we have another from the time of Horus Djet.

We have to leave it open where they created the type. We can only say that maybe some ships in our carvings have that shape.

Many shapes above are surely from before 3000 BC in origin. We know the next ships at least during the third millennium BC as this is from the time of Unas ca 2400 BC.

It tells that right angels were in use in Egypt too and models for building ships in the shape is also found. This is a ship for freighting and here a cover to a sarcophagus. It has still the half-moon shape but with cargo and partly under the waterline.


…. and Blekinge Sweden. Coincidence or copying?


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