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Wooden model (Paris, musee du Louvre, E 12021)"of a Nile boat with its bipod mast erected for sailing upstream, Dynasty V. By the Old Kingdom, Egypt had become a fully fledged nautical power and every feature that was to characterize Egyptian shipbuilding until the end of the New Kingdom was on its way to full development. (Esther Carre)

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The sailing and construction of boats can be traced back to the papyrus skiffs, made of several bundles of reeds lashed together, of the Predynastic Period. Many-oared boats were commonly depicted in red paint on the buff-coloured pottery of the Naqada II Period (3500-3100 BC), while the carved relief decoration on a Naqada II ivory knife handle from Gebel el-Arak in Upper Egypt (and now held in the Louvre) is the earliest Egyptian depiction of an amphibious operation. It shows shaven-headed warriors, armed with maces and staves, arriving in boats with high, straight prows and sterns, usually interpreted as Mesopotamian-inspired vessels. Early riverine boats seem to have been primarily used for the rapid transportation of troops and equipment up and down the Nile. Djer, a Dynasty I pharaoh, used boats in an attack on Nubian settlements as early as 2900 BC and the warriors depicted on the Gebel el-Arak knife handle are fighting with local tribesmen. A major consideration regarding the amphibious aspect of Egyptian warfare is that the prevailing wind in the Nile valley blows upstream, while the current flows northwards. Thus the Nile made life very easy for sailors as well as soldiers travelling this way. If one was travelling southwards sails could be used to propel boats, making it possible to sail from the Mediterranean more or less continuously almost 900 kilometres to the First Cataract at Aswan. On the other hand those heading north, albeit against the wind and under oar, enjoyed the benefit of the current. Before the Nile flood was stopped by the completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1971, the Nile flowed at an average speed of 1 knot (1 nautical mile, or 1.8529km, per hour) at low water in spring and increased its current speed to around 4 knots at high flood in the autumn. For this reason the hieroglyph for 'travelling north' (downstream), even in the case of

Osprey warrior 121 soldier of the pharaoh  
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