For the first time in centuries, a multi-ton limestone slab—one of dozens—floats free of the "tomb" of a 4,500-year-old, disassembled "solar boat" at the foot of the Great Pyramids in Giza (map), Egypt, on Thursday.
Below are hundreds of delicate wooden "puzzle pieces," protected by the climate-controlled tent built over the site in 2008.
Once the months-long process of extracting the pieces is finished, researchers expect to spend several years restoring the ship before placing it on display in Giza's Solar Boat Museum near the Pyramids. A similar ship found nearby has already been reconstructed and is on display in the museum. At about 140 feet (43 meters) long, the restored ship is thought to be a bit bigger than its still fragmented sister.
Solar boats played an important role in story of the afterlife in ancient Egyptian mythology. Each night the sun god Ra—in the form of the evening sun, Ra-Atum—was thought to sail through the afterlife in one boat to battle gods and beasts until he rose as the morning sun, Ra-Horakhty, and sailed his day boat across the sky.
Buried near the Great Pyramid, the buried sister boats were likely intended to assist Pharaoh Khufu on similar journeys during the afterlife.
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—With reporting by Andrew Bossone