Model Boat with Figurine in a Fetal Position

An early example from Predynastic Egypt, is a ceramic model of a boat with a man in a fetal position, sailing to the afterlife where he will be reborn.

Belief in a physical afterlife endured for thousands of years. This totemic item from predynastic Egypt shows the deceased curled up in the fetal position in the mother’s womb — represented as a boat and designed to sail along the Nile and into the afterlife.

Model boat with figurine in a fetal position, Predynastic Egypt, Naqada III
Model boat with figurine in a fetal position, Predynastic Egypt, Naqada III

The Predynastic period in Egypt, which dates back to around 6000 BCE to 3100 BCE, is characterized by its distinct pottery styles, cultural developments, and the emergence of early Egyptian civilization.

Death Cults arose in ancient civilisations in response to the development of the idea of an individual identity within a collective.

As we became aware of our individual physical limitations within time and space, the imaginations that blossomed grasped for the infinite. We observed nature and marvelled at the heavens — we contemplated the cycle of death, decay and resurrection, the rising and setting of the sun and we imagined that our own small portion of allotted time on the planet could not be the sum total of our cosmic influence. We acquired egos.

During the Predynastic period in Egypt, model boats were indeed created. These model funerary boats were often intricately crafted and placed in tombs alongside other grave goods, reflecting the importance of water and navigation in the Egyptian belief system and were believed to serve a symbolic or practical purpose in the afterlife.

They were typically made from materials such as wood, reeds, or clay and were intricately designed to resemble real boats used during that time. These models were commonly found in burials, suggesting their significance in funerary rituals and beliefs.

Predynastic Period, Naqada III, ca. 3500-3100 BC. Pottery, length: 25.3 cm. From Asyut. Now in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden. F 1962.12.1