The Gurob Ship-Cart Model and Its Mediterranean Context


The Gurob Ship-Cart Model and Its Mediterranean Context

by Shelley Wachsmann
(College Station: Texas A&M Univ. Press, 2013), xxii + 321 pp., 281 illust. and 5 maps, $75 (hardcover)
Reviewed by Ehud Galili

This book deals with a boat model, dated to 1380–1250 B.C.E., retrieved by Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie during 1920 in Gurob, near Fayum in Egypt. Petrie named it “frags of painted wooden boat on wheels.” Wachsmann dates it to the Egyptian 19th Dynasty (i.e., Late Helladic IIIB–C period). It is now in the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology in London and supposedly represents a small Helladic watercraft used by a “Sea People.” The author suggests seminal and innovative ideas on the cultural and technical meanings of the model. He explores data from the microscopic aspects of the model to modern ethnographic observations. Information concerning ancient Nilotic, cuneiform, Hellenic and pre-Hellenic societies are integrated into the book’s five chapters.

Chapter 1 delves into the history of the model and its technical aspects using rich pictorial material. Chapter 2 covers previously published iconographic evidence concerning the Sea Peoples and Helladic watercraft. Wachsmann uses evidence of people, haircuts, dresses, armor and weapons to characterize groups of Sea People watercraft.

Chapter 3 investigates wheels, wagons and ship transportation on land in the context of the Gurob model and its cultural symbolism. That research examines the significance of watercraft being paraded on land, starting in Egypt in 1300 B.C.E. and continuing to boats on wheels paraded in Luxor in 1998. The chapter ends by describing “ships on wheels” in ancient Mesopotamia, Egyptian ships moving on dry land from the Nile to the Red Sea, ships displayed in Rome in Triumphs, and ships crossing the Isthmus of Corinth by land.

Chapter 4 describes the geography of the site where the model was found using maps augmented by satellite views. Syro-Canaanites, Libyans and Sea Peoples, such as the Teresh and Sherden, are identified in situ, as well as traces of a Minoan and Semitic presence. Remains of ancient textile technologies reflect the presence of non-Egyptians.

Chapter 5 concludes that the Gurob boat model represents a Helladic ship-cart. The model has a pointed horizontal front foot said to have later evolved into the battering ram. Some characteristics of the model later appear in the Dionysian cult parades, presumably spread by the watercraft of the Sea Peoples.

The line drawing of the model in Appendix 1 is an important contribution to any further study of the Sea Peoples (which include the Philistines). The 3-D virtual presentation of the model in Appendix 2 exemplifies modern computerized graphics. Such a 3-D presentation should always have supporting architectural line drawings, as in this book.

The quality of the printing, graphics, photos and maps is excellent. Contentwise the book is somewhat uneven. Perhaps it targets too wide an audience. For example, few people studying ancient watercraft will have use for the index lists in Appendix 4, while the more technical parts are essential to people interested in ancient boat building. Any library serving those studying marine history and ancient watercraft should have a copy of this book. Also those interested in the Sea Peoples may find the book useful.

Ehud Galili is a maritime archaeologist, a senior researcher at the Israel Antiquities Authority and a senior research fellow at the Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Israel.

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