An archaeological mission — made up of members of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and the Orient Department of the German Archaeological Institute — has excavated a 4,000-year-old boat near the ancient city of Uruk.
Credit: Julia Nador/Deutsches Archäologisches Institut.
Uruk, also known as Warkā, played a major role in the early urbanization of Sumer in the mid-4th millennium BC. At its height, the population numbered close to 50,000 to 80,000, making it the largest city in the world at that time. According to Sumerian tradition—according to the chronology presented in the Sumerian king list—, was the home of Gilgamesh, the hero of one of the oldest literary works in history, the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Likewise, Uruk had a network of three river channels, saved by several bridges, that connected it with the Euphrates River where, surely, ships such as the one recently found by archaeologists sailed.
The vessel was first discovered during a survey of the surroundings of Uruk in 2018, where it was documented photogrammetrically and left buried. However, in recent years erosion had begun to expose it and road traffic near the site was already posing a threat. For this reason, the German-Iraqi team decided to carry out a rescue and preservation mission.
Credit: Mayssoun Issa/Deutsches Archäologisches Institut.
At 7 meters long and 1.4 meters wide, the boat was built from cane, palm leaves, and wood. Likewise, it was covered in bitumen, a substance produced through the distillation of crude oil that is known for its waterproofing and adhesive properties.
The archaeological context shows that it sank into the bank of a river some 4,000 years ago and was buried by layers of sediment.
Credit: Max Haibt/Deutsches Archäologisches Institut.
During the excavation, the boat was covered with a shell of clay and plaster to stabilize it and thus be able to rescue it in its entirety. it was moved to the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, under the Iraqi Antiquities Law, for further academic study and preservation. The plan is to exhibit the ship and share knowledge of the construction and the context with the public.