Uncovering a 4,000-Year-Old Mesopotamian Boat

Ancient boat uncovered from the ruins of Uruk

Mesopotamian boat

The Mesopotamian boat of Uruk during excavation. Courtesy German Archaeological Institute.

With archaeologists returning to Iraq, many finds are coming to light, including a 4,000-year-old Mesopotamian boat from the ancient Sumerian city of Uruk. According to a press release by the German Archaeological Institute, the boat was discovered largely intact by a joint German-Iraqi team. The Mesopotamian boat was constructed out of organic materials covered in bitumen, a substance made from crude oil and commonly used for waterproofing across Mesopotamia. This construction technique is similar to that used in the building of Noah’s ark (Genesis 6:14). Since the boat’s burial, however, the organic material has completely decomposed, leaving behind only the outer bitumen cover, which served to preserve the boat’s original shape and size.

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After uncovering the boat, the team set about photographing it and creating three-dimensional models using photogrammetry. The boat measures approximately 23 feet long and 4.5 feet wide. After preliminary studies, the team suggested that the Mesopotamian boat most likely became lodged in the loose soil of the Euphrates riverbank and, over time, was covered with silt and sediment. From the boat’s archaeological context, the team determined that it is likely around 4,000 years old, which would place it toward the end of the Ur III Period (c. 2112–2004 B.C.E.) or the beginning of the Isin-Larsa Period (c. 2004–1763 B.C.E.). Due to fear of additional damage, the team covered the boat in a clay and plaster shell before excavating it completely. The boat is expected to be brought to the Iraq Museum in Baghdad where it will be studied and displayed.

outline of boat in sand

Aerial view showing the outline of the Uruk boat. Courtesy German Archaeological Institute.


Ancient Uruk

The Mesopotamian city of Uruk—Unug in Sumerian—was one of the oldest and most powerful cities in the land of Sumer (southern Iraq). Although in antiquity the city sat along the banks of the Euphrates River, Uruk is now covered in sand, the bed of the Euphrates having long ago shifted its course. The city rose to great power in the fourth millennium and, for a time, it was possibly the largest city in the ancient world. According to the Epic of Gilgamesh, Uruk was also the royal seat of the tale’s eponymous mythical king. As described in the epic (tablet 11), Gilgamesh met an immortal man named Utnapishtim, who had been instructed by the gods to build a giant circular boat to save himself from a flood that would be sent by the gods. In the 1800s, scholars proposed that Uruk could be the biblical city of Erech, the second city built by Nimrod in Genesis 10:10.


Read more in Biblical Archaeology Daily:

The Rebirth of Archaeology in Iraq

How Did Noah Build the Ark?


All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

The Galilee Boat—2,000-Year-Old Hull Recovered Intact

Was Noah’s Ark a Sewn Boat?
Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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