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Archaeologists Uncover World's Oldest Harbor in Egypt: Papyrus Collection Discovered

First Posted: Apr 17, 2013 11:36 AM EDT
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Around 2580 B.C., the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu ruled over one of the greatest kingdoms of the ancient world. Now, archaeologists have uncovered a vast harbor complex, a tool that the pharaoh used to help expand his domain and trade precious minerals with the rest of the Mediterranean world.

The second pharaoh of the 4th dynasty, Khufu was the son of Sneferu and Queen Hetepheres I. He's best known for having built one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World--the Great Pyramid of Giza. Taking 23 years to complete, this massive structure eventually served as his tomb after he died. Despite this great achievement, though, surprisingly little is known about this pharaoh. In fact, the only statue found of him measures a tiny three inches in height. The few accounts of his reign, written by the Greek historian Herodotus, characterize the pharaoh as a cruel leader, though it's likely that these papers were highly biased.

Yet the success of Khufu's reign and his pyramid building could now be attributed to his ability to trade. Dating about 4,500 years old, the harbor predates other port structures by more than 1,000 years. It was constructed on the shores of the Red Sea about 112 miles south of Suez. In all, the archaeologists were able to identify dock structures, anchors of carved stone, storage jars, fragments of rope and pieces of pottery.

While the artifacts are themselves interesting, what have really captured the attention of archaeologists are the papyrus documents that they discovered at the site. The oldest ever found in Egypt, the 40 documents detail the daily lives of ancient Egyptians during the 27th year of Khufu's reign.

Some of these documents were more personal than others. One was actually the diary of a port official named Merrer. According to his writing, he helped lead the construction of the Great Pyramid by travelling to the Tura limestone quarry to fetch blocks for the monument.

"This diary provides for the first time an insight on this matter," said Pierre Tallet, Egyptologist at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, in an interview with LiveScience.com.

The findings could allow archaeologists to better understand how the massive pyramid was built and could give insight into Khufu's reign. They could also reveal that, despite Herodotus's claims, the pharaoh wasn't such a bad leader after all.

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