We recently wrote about how some modern miseries aren’t so modern after all. But good things happened in the past, as well. The oldest remains of a seafaring ship ever found has just been discovered in a cave in Egypt.

Florida archeologist Cheryl Ward found wooden planks found in the manmade caves in Egypt that are about 4,000 years old, making them the world’s most ancient ship timbers. Scholars have long known that Egyptians traded with cultures in what is now Ethiopia and Yemen, but they weren’t sure if they traveled by land or by sea, since many scientists thought the ancient Egyptians did not have the naval technology to travel long distances on open water.

But why did archeologists find timber from ships, and not the ships themselves? Ward thinks the ships were originally built at a Nile shipyard, then disassembled and carried across 90 miles of desert to the Red Sea, where they were put back together and launched on the voyage of over 2,000 miles, to areas in what is now Africa and the Middle East.

“The scale of the organization astounds me,” Ward says. “They had men carry kits with pieces 10 feet long and 8 to 12 inches thick across the desert to reassemble into ships on the edge of a sea that is still difficult to sail today. To have the manpower and supply line to equip the shipyard there and sail five or so ships on the Red Sea, and to have the knowledge to use the currents and winds to return safely, would be tough today, and they achieved it without GPS, cell phones or computers, not to mention the combustion engine.”

Upon the fleet’s return several months after setting sail, the crews would have unloaded the cargo and then would have started breaking down the ship piece by piece. Ward thinks that shipwrights inspected the vessels and marked unsatisfactory pieces with red paint, while other pieces were cleaned and recycled. As many as 3,700 men may have taken part in these expeditions.

Ward describes the cave as “a site that has kept its secrets for 40 centuries.”

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