The recent discovery of Wadi el-Jarf harbour, which dates back to the King Khufu era (ca. 2600 BC), is considered one of the major discoveries in the world because it contains facilities of the oldest artificial harbour known until now. It also represents the first discovery of Pharaonic stone anchors in their original context.
Archaeological investigation has been carried out at Wadi el-Jarf since 2011 by a team from the Institute Français d’Archéologie Orientale and the University of Paris – Sorbonne. The team carried out an underwater survey of the harbour, the main element of which is a long L- shaped mole, starting from the beach and extending underwater in an easterly direction over 160m (JN). It then runs in a more irregular way towards the southeast for another 120m (JE). Some amphorae and more than 20 limestone anchors were found in situ in a sheltered position to the south of the east-west jetty (Z3).
This year, the Central Department for Underwater Antiquities continued the underwater survey of the site in response to the information provided by previous archaeological investigations along the shore of the harbour.
The systematic visual underwater search was extended to cover an area of approximately 70000 m2 including the jetties, the internal basin and the outside limits of the jetties. All the major limits of the jetties were recorded using a Total Station in order to create a digital map of both the recent and the old topographical surveys of the harbour (fig. 21).
The survey resulted in discovering and recording new extensions of about 90 m of the eastern jetty (JE) divided in two parts (Z4, Z5 – JE1, JE2) and the remains of two new small jetties at the southern part of the harbour (JS1, JS2) which are connected to the shore and extend underwater (fig. 22).
The first season of field work conducted in 2016 at Wadi al-Jarf harbour started in two zones and will continue in the future (fig. 22). The first excavation (S1) took place on the northern jetty (JN2). In order to ascertain the construction of the jetty and its boundaries, a trench (5 x 15) was cleared using a water pump. It revealed that the jetty was based on sedimentary layers, not on natural rock as JN1.
The second excavation (S2) constituted a trench (10 x 15) divided in 6 squares (5 x5) (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C3) and took place in the middle of the stone anchors zone (Z3) near some amphorae of the same type and size as those found on land in Wadi el-Jarf. The area was first recorded with photogrammetry and then excavation commenced in area B1 by removing 4 layers (fine sand, sand with marine shells, beach rock and sand with pottery shards). At this level the excavation stopped and will resume next year. The site was documented by measurements, photos, videos and photogrammetry.
Based on the information provided by the Institute Français d’Archéologie Orientale and the University of Paris – Sorbonne, the Central Department for Underwater Antiquities carried out the first season of underwater archaeological investigation at Wadi el-Jarf’s oldest harbour. The mission resulted in providing a digital map of the entire area surveyed, as well as determining a general idea about the construction method of the harbour.
The CDUA will continue the excavation next year and a detailed study of the site will help to understand the importance of the site which was a vital maritime link between along the coast of the Red Sea and Sinai Peninsula.
Read the english translation of the papyri we found containing the diary of a team of sailors transporting limestone blocks to the Giza pyramid at the time of its building.
Publications this year:
— P. Tallet, Les papyrus de la mer Rouge I. Le journal de Merer (papyrus Jarf A et B), sous presse, Ifao.
— P. Tallet, « Des serpents et des lions : la flotte stupefiante de Cheops en mer Rouge », in Du Sinai au Soudan, itineraire d’une egyptologues, Melanges offerts a Dominique Valbelle, De Boccard, 2016, p. 243-253.
— P. Tallet, « Des nains, des etoffes et des bijoux : le papyrus de Nefer-irou au ouadi el- Jarf, Melanges ***, sous presse, Ifao.
— P. Tallet, G. Marouard, « The Harbor facilities of King Khufu on the Red Sea shore : The Wadi el-Jarf / El-Markha system », JARCE 53, 2017, sous presse.
— E. Frayssignes, « Nouvelle perspective sur les techniques de tissage a l’Ancien Empire : une attestation textile de l’utilisation de metiers a chaine tubulaire (ouadi el- Jarf, mer Rouge), Nehet 4, 2016, sous presse.