Wednesday 6 January 2010

Not rowing Ancient Egyptian style

We are still snowed in so I've been watching the box again, this time a BBC4 docco about the first female Pharoah, Hatshepsut, and the expedition she is said to have despatched to the mysterious land of Punt to get myrrh and other exotic goods.

The boats are depicted in a frieze in Hatshepsut's tomb, and a lady American archeologist set out to show that such a ship would be seaworthy enough to brave the Red Sea, although one of the big problems is that no-one knows where Punt was - it could have been anywhere from a short coast-hugging journey to a major venture into the Indian Ocean.
They went through the various other imponderables, from how wide the ships were (difficult to say because they are depicted only side on in the tomb reliefs) to whether the planks were caulked or not (they caulked them anyway because the hull leaked like a bundle of sticks even after several weeks submerged in the Nile).
But one thing that is absolutely certain and clearly shown in every depiction of Ancient Egyptian ships is that the main method of propulsion was by oar.

So the sailors on the replica boat endlessly discussed what sort of sail it would have had and how it was rigged, and speculated on whether it could point upwind. Not once were oars mentioned. In fact, it looked as though they didn't even stow any, though without the oars the experiment was about as valid as Thor Heyerdahl's reed boat Ra that didn't prove that the Ancient Egyptians crossed the Atlantic.
If you are in the UK you can watch it on BBC iPlayer.
Oh, and another thing. Why do documentary directors insist on endless sequences of the presenters driving, flying, walking down corridors and so on? It is totally irrelevant and demonstrates how directors are not at all interested in their subject, simply on adding movement during the commentary. It makes me really angry.


JP said...

I saw that documentary but didn't watch it as suspected it would be padded / sensationalised but there is always iPlayer

Knowledge of sailing and rowing issues seems pretty rare in the corridors of the BBC.

One of my pet dislikes is the unwillingness that many directors have to have serious maps in TV programs.

Chris Partridge said...

It wasn't sensationalised, and there was a core of interest in it, but boy was it padded. There is a really good half hour prog in there, struggling to get out.
And if they had put a crew of rowers in, they might have had a totally different view of the ship's capabilities.

Peter Williams said...

I liked the archaeology and the Herculean actual boatbuilding, and the real sailing experiments ! Have you been following the Phoenician Expedition, which has involved some real rowing (often without sufficient crew).

Somewhere I have the original Hanno account (copy from the British Library) which is a tremendous account, well worth a good read whilst snowbound in these latitudes.

ex-Emsworth !