Pharaoh's Boat

David Weitzman
ISBN: 054705341X
Format: Hardcover
Pub Date: 05/01/2009
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Shipping Weight: 1.1lbs
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Pharaoh’s Boat is not a plaything or a diverting bit of aquatic recreation. The Nile is central to the existence of Egypt. Egyptians worship the Nile as the giver of life. One of Pharaoh’s most sacred duties was to intercede with the gods on behalf of Egypt to insure the annual flood which irrigates the fields on either side of the long valley. Cheops and the Great Pyramid of Giza which formed his tomb belong to the earliest period in Egyptian history. Perhaps as early as 2600 BC, in the Old Kingdom of Egypt 100,000 workers labored for 20 years to build a stone pyramid over 400 feet tall.

The first part of this delightful book tells the ancient story of how and why a boat was built for Cheops and buried in a pit on the river side of the Great Pyramid. The author and illustrator, David Weitzman, uses the flat 2-dimensional style of ancient Egyptian wall paintings to show explain why boats were so important to the ancient Egyptians and to show the steps which were taken to build and bury two boats for Pharaoh Cheops. The twist is that the boats, after being designed and built by an ancient shipwright, were disassembled and the pieces placed in an orderly layered arrangement in the pits.

To tell the story of their discovery and re-assembly, Weitzman switches to a more modern 3-dimensional representational style. The story of the painstaking research that went into re-assembling the boat is as fascinating as the story of their original construction. It was a 3-dimensional jigsaw puzzle with 1,200+ pieces, and no pictures or instructions. Before the Egyptian archeologist, Ahmed Youssef Moustafa, chief of the Restoration Department of the Egyptian Antiquities Service was satisfied, the boat had been put together and taken apart five times. Each time, the team of archeologists learned something new. To solve several particularly difficult problems, Ahmed went to modern Egyptian boat-makers on the banks of the Nile and served as an apprentice, asking questions about the details of the techniques they used. It turns out that many things have stayed the same for over 4,000 years. This book is a masterpiece. Although the publisher says that the target audience is children ages 9-12, my estimate is that students up through middle school will find the book quite interesting.

The book carries an endorsement by David Macaulay (and makes a great companion to his book, Pyramid):
Pharaoh’s Boat is an immensely gratifying book as skillfully crafted and assembled as its subject. In this beautifully written and illustrated account, David Weitzman weaves past an present into a truly satisfying story of technology and discovery, scholarship and craft. While much of the art is done in the familiarly flat Egyptian style, the journey on which it take us is absolutely four dimensional.”

Pharaoh’s Boat is a hardback, 32 pages.
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