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4,000-Year-Old Funeral Boat Gently Moved into Elaborate Museum Tomb Scene

August 30, 1988

CHICAGO (AP) _ Inch by inch, with the help of expert riggers, the funeral boat of one of ancient Egypt’s most powerful pharoahs took another journey Tuesday, to a new $2.2 million museum exhibit.

Hydraulic jacks, dollies and a forklift were used to move the fragile, 3,847-year-old wooden boat about 50 yards from a display section of the Field Museum of Natural History to an exhibit designed to recreate a pharoah’s tomb.

″It went very well,″ said Suzanne Santos, a museum spokeswoman.

Before the move, the 32-foot boat - a graceful craft resembling a canoe - was gently lifted off the floor and rotated so it was pointing south to its new destination, Mrs. Santos said.

Riggers who performed the tricky maneuver had to keep their hands off, so no sweat or body oils would harm the ancient wood.

The boat, used in the funeral of King Sen-wosret III in about 1850 B.C., now becomes part of a new permanent exhibit called ″Inside Ancient Egypt,″ which opens in November.

The actual moving of the boat took about an hour, Mrs. Santos said.

The ancient craft has been at the museum since 1900, and for at least a dozen years has been encased in glass in a room with other Egyptian artifacts.

″It was your typical museum collection,″ Mrs. Santos said.

The new exhibit will give visitors a feel for ancient Egypt, though glass will still prevent any direct contact with the boat, she said.

The exhibit will give visitors their only opportunity outside Egypt to enter and explore a life-size tomb complex, with two burial chambers, mummies and a shrine to the cat goddess Bastet, the museum said.

King Sen-wosret’s boat is among more than 1,000 artifacts to be displayed.

Visitors will enter the tomb chambers of Unis-ankh, son of the 5th Dynasty pharaoh Unis. The chambers date to 2400 B.C. and were excavated at Saqqara, Egypt, in 1908.

Beneath a false door, a 35-foot burial shaft will take visitors into the dark burial chamber itself. The sarcophagus is empty. When the tomb was excavated, the mummy was gone, probably stolen by tomb robbers.

Leaving the burial chamber, visitors will pass through a roughly hewn tomb robbers’ tunnel and into a series of Egyptian burial scenes featuring dioramas, 23 mummies and other artifacts.

″It gives (visitors) a chance to explore the age-old mysteries of mummies and life after death,″ said the exhibit’s developer, Janet Kamien.

Sen-wosret’s boat was one of four excavated in 1894 from his tomb at Dashur by Jacques DeMorgan, a Welsh Egyptologist, the museum said. Two are at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the other is at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

No one knows if Sen-wosret’s boats were used to transport his body across the Nile to the burial site, or if they was buried near the tomb for use in the afterlife by the king’s soul, said Frank Yurco, a scholar on ancient Egypt at the Oriental Institute and a consultant on the museum project.

Sen-wosret conducted military campaigns that extended Egypt’s boundary into the Nubian region of Ethiopia and the Sudan, as well as securing control of the Nile River to the south, he said. He also centralized the government, setting the pattern for several hundred years.

Sen-wosret is believed to have died when he was about 50, Yurco said.

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