And it may lead to an even bigger find: a long-missing royal tomb.
In November last year Czech archaeologists working at Abusir South made an extraordinary find: an 18-metre-long wooden boat, buried beneath the desert sands some 4,600 years ago.
What many don't realise however, is what this discovery may suggest: one of Egyptology's longest-standing mysteries could be one step closer to being solved—the missing tomb of the enigmatic King Huni.
Abusir is part of the vast "pyramid field" that served the kings of Egypt's ancient capital Memphis. The site is most famous for its dilapidated 5th Dynasty Pyramids, although the area is also studded with tombs for high ranking court officials and members of the royal elite.
The Czech Institute of Egyptology has been working at Abusir for 40 years. In 2009 the team started excavating a large mud brick mastaba tomb at Abusir South, labelled AS 54. It's size (52 metres long) and location (highest point in the area, overlooking Abusir Lake) tell us that the tomb owner was a very important man in the royal palace—a top official or a person close to the king.
This "tomb with a view" had been thoroughly robbed and ransacked in antiquity, with all traces of the owner's name wiped out. While his identity remains a mystery for now, we do know what era he was from thanks to a single inscription on a broken bowl fragment found in the tomb's shaft. It contains the name of Huni, the last king of Egypt's 3rd Dynasty, who reigned around 2640 B.C.
It was when the Czech team were clearing an area near the southern wall of Mastaba AS 54 that the ancient boat came to light. For its age, the boat is in an extremely fragile but surprisingly good condition. Its wooden planks, joined with wooden pegs, are intact, and some of the ropes that bound the boat together were still in place.
Why bury a boat? It is thought that the boat was to serve the deceased on his journey to the afterlife. Additionally, t may be that the boat was a symbolic solar barque, used by the sun-god Ra as he sailed gloriously across the sky. The hope was that the deceased would join the sun as it rose from the underworld at dawn and share in Ra's daily resurrection.
The Director of the Abusir excavations, Miroslav Bárta , is hopefulthat the next digging season might reveal more discoveries: "... where there is one boat, there very well may be more.”
What is also intriguing is that inscription mentioning the enigmatic King Huni. We know very little about this pharaoh. Not a single image of the man has been found, and we don't know where he planned to spend eternity. Some suspect that Sneferu's collapsed pyramid at Meidum was actually begun by his predecessor, Huni. However there is no real evidence, and the idea is largely based on the fact that Huni's tomb is missing and the Meidum Pyramid would be a handy solution.
What Professor Bárta is also keeping in mind is that by Egypt's 3rd Dynasty, the kings had established the tradition of burying their highest officials close to their own funerary monuments. In this way they could continue to serve the king forever. The newly discovered boat vastly increases the status of the mysterious owner of Mastaba AS 54; he no doubt was well connected with the reigning pharaoh, Huni.
It can't be ruled out that the long lost final resting place of King Huni could be nearby.