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The ancient Egyptian’s secret to making the strongest of all rigging ropes lies in a tangle of cord coils in a cave at the Red Sea coast, according to preliminary study results presented at the recent congress of Egyptologists in Rhodes.
Discovered three years ago by archaeologists Rodolfo Fattovich of the Oriental Studies University of Naples and Kathryn Bard of Boston University, the ropes offer an unprecedented look at seafaring activities in ancient Egypt.
“No ropes on this scale and this old have been so well preserved in their original context — in Egypt or elsewhere,” Bard told Discovery News. Carefully wrapped in coils by ancient Egyptian sailors almost 4,000 years ago, the ropes were found in a hand-hewn cave at the ancient Red Sea port of Marsa Gawasis, 23 kilometers (14 miles) south of Safaga.
“The cave is really spectacular. Over 30 coils of ropes lie on the ground as if they had just been left there. Amazingly, these ropes were stored in the same way as nowadays sailors store their shipping cords — just coiling and tighting them in the middle,” archaeologist and rope analyst Andre Veldmeijer told Discovery News.
In their report, Veldmeijer and colleague Chiara Zazzaro of the University of Naples, estimated that more than 60 complete coils of cords are stored in the long, deep cave. “Each cord is about 30 meters (98 feet) long and is very thick. No doubt these ropes were made for strong, heavy duties, Veldmeijer said. “Basically, they were hauling truss components. They ran above the deck, secured at the bow and at the stern, to produce structural cohesion for the ship,”
It’s really intriguing. We know that the ropes are made of vegetable fibers only,” Veldmeijer said. “Moreover, they are of one type of vegetable fiber — Egyptians never used different materials together to make ropes. We can exclude the usual, known materials, such as halfa grasses, papyrus and palm. It’s possibly reed… We hope to solve the puzzle by the end of the year.”