This model of a riverboat was found with twenty three other models of boats, gardens, and workshops in a hidden chamber at the side of the passage leading into the rock cut tomb of the royal chief steward Meketre, who began his career under King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II of Dynasty 11 and continued to serve successive kings into the early years of Dynasty 12.
Meketre is seated smelling a lotus blossom in the shade of a small cabin, which on an actual boat would have been made of a light wooden framework with linen or leather hangings. Here the hangings are shown partly rolled up to let the breeze into the cabin. Wooden shields covered with bulls' hides are painted on each side of the cabin roof. A singer, with his hand to his lips, and a blind harper entertain Meketre on his voyage. Standing in front of him is a man, probably the ship's captain, with his arms crossed over his chest. He may be depicted awaiting orders, but he may also be paying homage to the deceased Meketre. As the twelve oarsmen propel the boat, a lookout in the bow holds a weighted line used to determine the depth of the river. At the stern, the helmsman controls the rudder. A tall white post amidship supported a mast and sail (not found in the tomb), which would have been taken down when the boat was rowed downstream—as it is here—against the prevailing north wind. Going south (upstream), with the wind behind it, the boat would have been sailed. The boat is similar to one Meketre might have used in his lifetime. Certain details, however, suggest that on this voyage Meketre is traveling toward the afterlife. For instance the blossom he holds is the blue lotus, a flower the Egyptians associated with rebirth.
All the accessible rooms in the tomb of Meketre had been robbed and plundered already during Antiquity; but early in 1920 the Museum's excavator, Herbert Winlock, wanted to obtain an accurate floor plan of the tomb's layout for his map of the Eleventh Dynasty necropolis at Thebes and, therefore, had his workmen clean out the accumulated debris. It was during this cleaning operation that the small hidden chamber was discovered, filled with twenty-four almost perfectly preserved models. Eventually, half of these went to the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, and the other half came to the Metropolitan Museum in the partition of finds.
Excavated by the Egyptian Expedition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1920. Acquired by the Museum in the division of finds, 1920.
Metropolitan Museum of Art 2012. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, p. 42.