Diagram of Harbour at Wadi al-Jarf.

Diagram of Harbour at Wadi al-Jarf.

Location of Wad al-Jarf.

Location of Wad al-Jarf.

Old Kingdom anchor at Wadi al-Jarf.

Old Kingdom anchor at Wadi al-Jarf.

Detail map of Red Sea Governorate, Egypt Overview map of Red Sea Governorate, Egypt

A: Red Sea Governorate, Egypt

The World's Oldest Harbor

Circa 2500 BCE
<p>Photo of wharf at low tide, Wadi al-Jarf</p>

Photo of wharf at low tide, Wadi al-Jarf

Between 2011 and 2013 a French-Egyptian archaeological mission from the French Institute of Archaeological Studies (IFAO) headed by Pierre Tallet, an Egyptologist at the University of Paris, discovered the most ancient harbor ever found on the shore of the Red Sea at Wadi al-Jarf 119 km (74 mi.) south of Suez. The harbor dates to the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt. Also discovered at the site were more than 100 anchors— the first Old Kingdom anchors found in their original context— and numerous storage jars. The jars have been linked with those of another site across the Red Sea, indicating trade between the two sites. Among products traded were copper and other minerals from Sinai. 

"The harbor complex consists of a 280 m (920 ft) long mole or jetty of stone that is still visible at low tide (28.8888°N 32.6815°E), an alamat or navigational landmark made of heaped stones, a strange 60 m × 30 m (200 ft × 98 ft) building of unknown function that is divided into 13 long rooms, and a series of 25 to 30 storage galleries carved into limestone outcrops. The building of unknown function is the largest pharaonic building discovered along the Red Sea coast to date. The storage galleries are between 16 and 34 m (52 and 112 ft) long, and are usually 3 m (9.8 ft) wide and 2.5 m (8.2 ft) tall.

"Inside the galleries, the archeological team discovered several boat and sail fragments, some oars, and numerous pieces of ancient rope. Twenty-five stone anchors were found under water, and 99 anchors were found in an apparent storage building. The discovery of anchors in their original context is a first in Old Kingdom archeology. Many of the anchors bear hieroglyphs, likely representing the boat's names from which they came.

"The port is to have been the starting point for voyages from mainland Egypt to South Sinai mining operations. Tallet speculates that the harbor may have also been used to launch voyages to "the mysterious Land of Punt", a known trading partner of Egypt. The archeologists who excavated the site believe that the harbor dates to the reign of the Pharaoh Khufu (2589–2566 B.C.), whose name is inscribed on some of the heavy limestone blocks at the site. That means the harbor predates the second-oldest known port structure by more than 1,000 years. There is some trace evidence of use during the early part of Fifth Dynasty, after which the harbor was likely abandoned" (Wikipedia article on Wadi-al-Jarf, accessed 04-25-2013).

Timeline Themes