Shelly Wachsmann, 2013. The Gurob Ship-Cart Model and Its Mediterranean Context, College Station: Texas A&M University Press.
Hardback, xxii + 321 p., 281 illustrations and 5 maps, 28x21.5 cm, 212 b&w photos, 65 line drawings, 4 figs, 5 maps, 7 appendixes, glossary, bibliography, index, ISBN: 978-1-60344-429-3
Reviewed by Dr Elena Maragoudaki, Experimental Archaeologist, Ephorate of Antiquities of Chania
The Meadows Professor of Biblical Archaeology at Texas A&M University, Shelley Wachsmann is also the author of Seagoing Ships and Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant (Texas A&M University Press, 1998), which received the Irene Levi-Sala Book Prize in the Archaeology of Israel, and The Sea of Galilee Boat: An Extraordinary 2000-Year-Old Discovery (Texas A&M University Press, 2009), which won the Biblical Archaeology Society’s Award for best popular book.
This study focuses on the biography of the Gurob ship-cart model. It is about a wooden model of a ship-chart excavated by W. M. F. Petrie in 1920 in a 19th Dynasty tomb at Gyrob in the Fayum oasis in Middle Egypt. Exhibited at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology this unique object has never been the focal point of adequate and in-depth research. The model was almost forgotten until the turn of the millennium, when it was “rediscovered” and republished, by one of the foremost authorities on ships and seafaring in the Bronze Age Mediterranean, Professor Shelley Wachsmann of Texas A&M University.
The author initially hoped that his research would result in a medium-length article. Seven years later the article evolved into a monograph that complements his other significant work, Seagoing Ships & Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant (Wachsmann1998), a milestone on the history of seafaring in the East Mediterranean Bronze Age. Wachsmann’s research concluded that the Gurob model is a representation of an Aegean-style oared galley holding clues to the identities and cultures of the enigmatic Sea Peoples, to the religious practices of ancient Egypt and Greece, and to the oared ships used by the Bronze Age Mycenaean Greeks.
With these conclusions in mind, we shall examine the book chapter by chapter which uses the model as a guide to the life a lost world, over three thousand years old!
Chapter 1, “The Gurob Ship-Cart Model”, gives us the background to the model, from its discovery in a 19th Dynasty tomb at Gurob in the Fayum valley to its housing and exhibition in the Petrie Museum in London. This is the first study that gives a full technical exposition of all its parts.
Chapter 2, “The Iconographic Evidence”, is a comparative analysis that supports the great importance of the Gurob ship-cart model whose prototype is clearly “a Helladic style galley of the Late Bronze / Early Iron age” (p. 32). The material analysis is divided into three parts. The first concerns representations found in Egypt where Sea People’s galleys appeared in relief at Medinet Habu (a 2nd millennium temple of Ramesses III), and a ship graffito from the Dakhla Oasis in the western Desert of Egypt. The second is about Helladic ship representations of the Syro-Canaanite littoral with open rowers’ galleries and/or bird-head stem devices being introduced to these regions by Sea Peoples. The study is exclusively dedicated to a bird-headed stem galley depicted on a cremation urn from an Early Iron Age cemetery at Hama in Syria, which is considered to be the Gurob’s closest parallel. The last part of this chapter offers iconographic comparanda of the Gurob model’s constructional characteristics with the corpus of Helladic / Sea Peoples’ galley representations more comprehensively than but as exuberantly as those presented in Seagoing Ships and Seamanship.
Due to the fact that the Gurob ship was found together with four wheels, Chapter 3, “Wheels, Wagons and the Transport of Ships Overland”, deals with the evidence of all kinds of ships, boats and their replicas being transported overland within the context of ship processions not only of ceremonial or funerary character, but also for practical reasons in Egypt and Greece from ancient to modern times. The author argues convincingly for the continuity with ancient traditions. By an especially extensive analysis of a silver ship model fitted onto a carriage with wheels found in the 17th Dynasty tomb of Queen Ahhotep, the author suggests that this wooden model has elements that are Egyptian in nature. However, the author goes beyond the Egyptian evidence and quotes examples of ship-cart use in Greek civilisations. In particular, he emphasizes on a low relief of the Panathenaic ship of the Calendar Frieze, now gracing the Small Metropolitan Church (Church of St. Eleutherios) in central Athens. Although it has suffered severe degradation (re-chiseled surface depicting a roundel-enclosed cross), it initially contained a representation of the Dionysian ship-cart. Additionally, a firmer chronological link between wheeled ship models in the Aegean and the Gurob artefacts is provided by a LH IIIC1b terracotta fragment of a ship model from Pyrgos Livanaton (Kynos) with a hole for an axle (p. 120). Although this chapter is quite extensive and prolific, it lacks inner coherence and cohesiveness and gives the impression of a simple apposition of related elements.
Chapter 4, “Foreigners at Gurob”, attempts to determine the Gurob ship-cart model owner’s background examining the evidence for non-Egyptians at the site concentrating on Ramesside texts concerning the Se Peoples. The research was based on three types of evidence: archaeology, iconography and texts. It seems that the town must have been home to a number of foreign individuals. The available evidence allows an assessment of which groups from among Syro-Canaanites, Libyans, Sea Peoples (Ekwesh, Weshesh, Sherden) might be represented at Gurob. All these lead the author to the conclusion that the model was probably owned by and buried with a person of Sherden ancestry with a degree of syncretism with Egyptian norms (p.163). It is worth noting that Sherden, one of the Sea Peoples groups, had been very active since the 14th century and had attacked Egypt, along with other groups, in the year 8 of reign of Rameses III.
Chapter 5, “Conclusions”, restates the main points of the research in a concise synthesis, propounding the great significance of the Gurob ship-cart model, which proves to be the closest parallel of the Helladic galley, a significant landmark at the tumultuous end of the Late Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age. The author judging by the remnants of black dots along each side of the model suggests that it probably represents a fifty-oared pentekonter (twenty-five dots interpreted as oar-ports per side).
Moreover, the basic research is bolstered by seven appendices written by contributing authors. Specifically, these deal with the lines of the Gurob model (App. 1 by A. Catsambis); the Gurob ship-cart model in virtual reality (App. 2 by D. H. Sanders); ship colours in the Homeric poems (App. 3 by D. Davis); the Sherden and Tjuk peoples in the Wilbour Papyrus (App. 4 by S. Wachsmann); the radiocarbon analysis of the Gurob ship-cart model (App. 5 by C. A. Prior); the pigments analysis (App. 6 by R. Siddall); and identification of the wood (C. Cartwright). Lastly, the book also offers a useful glossary of basic nautical terms, an extensive bibliography as well as a good index.
The author in collaboration with the Institute for the Visualization of History, Inc. has produced an innovative open source (http://www.vizin.org/Gurob/Gurob.html) which includes 3D interactive models, offering the reader an interactive experience of a meticulous examination of the model in its present state of preservation as well as in two hypothetical reconstructions. Furthermore, through this interactive digital supplement a high-resolution full-colour companion comprising model photos, maps and site satellite photos as well as other related materials is also provided.
Professor Wachsmann as a leading expert in nautical archaeology has once more put together a book of great interest shedding light on the world behind this unique artefact, the complex world of the Eastern Mediterranean at a time of disturbances and cultural changes. The Gurob Ship-Cart Model and Its Mediterranean Context constitutes a masterful account of a remarkable find setting it convincingly, for the most part, in its historical context. This book, written in an engaging manner, is recommended to individuals, students, scholars of many disciplines. It is a significant contribution to the existing literature regarding ship morphology, ancient seafaring and maritime related ritual in the Eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age.
Bachhuber, C., 2013. Review of S. Wachsmann, The Gurob Ship-Cart Model and Its Mediterranean Context, INA Quarterly 40.3, 28-29.
Emanuel, J. P., in press. Review of S. Wachsmann, The Gurob Ship-Cart Model and Its Mediterranean Context, Antiguo Oriente 12.
Yasur-Landau, A., 2014. Review of S. Wachsmann, The Gurob Ship-Cart Model and Its Mediterranean Context, AJA 118.3 [online]