Hands-on Activity: Boat Design Challenge: Journey to the Egyptian Afterlife

Contributed by: Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University

Photo shows a long, narrow boat with high points at front and back, an oar and colorful designs on its sides.
A painted wooden boat from the tomb of Amenhotep II, c. 1400 BC. The Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
copyright
Copyright © 2011 National Gallery of Art, Washington DC http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2002/egypt/imagelist/31-1.htm

Summary

Student teams are challenged to design models of Egyptian funerary barges for the purpose of transporting mummies through the underworld to the afterlife. Planning the boat designs requires an understanding of ancient culture and beliefs so the mummies are transported safely through the perils of the underworld. Students design and build prototypes using materials and tools like the ancient Egyptians had at their disposal. Then they do the same with modern materials and techniques, forming an awareness of the similarities and differences of the barge designs between the ancient materials and tools (technologies) and today's technologies, which are evolved from the earlier ways.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineers work within constraints such as available materials and what would work for a certain culture. While this may seem like a limitation, it usually results in more successful designs. For example, whether designing consumer products, shelter or clean water delivery systems, the best engineering designs take into consideration the local community's culture, climate, materials, resources and labor.

Pre-Req Knowledge

Culture of Egyptian funerals and beliefs. Alternately, assign investigation of this topic as part of the research step.

Learning Objectives

  • Students compare and contrast the ancient with the modern tools and technology used in constructing prototype barges.
  • Students come to see that the engineering design process has remained the same since ancient times and that it is the technology that has evolved.
  • Students realize that technology is not something totally new, but that it is as old as human civilization.
  • Students see how modern builders copied and improved on the techniques developed by the ancient world.

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Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • New products and systems can be developed to solve problems or to help do things that could not be done without the help of technology. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The development of technology is a human activity and is the result of individual and collective needs and the ability to be creative. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Economic, political, and cultural issues are influenced by the development and use of technology. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Throughout history, new technologies have resulted from the demands, values, and interests of individuals, businesses, industries, and societies. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The use of inventions and innovations has led to changes in society and the creation of new needs and wants. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Social and cultural priorities and values are reflected in technological devices. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Meeting societal expectations is the driving force behind the acceptance and use of products and systems. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Many inventions and innovations have evolved using slow and methodical processes of tests and refinements. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The specialization of function has been at the heart of many technological improvements. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Design is a creative planning process that leads to useful products and systems. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • There is no perfect design. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Requirements for design are made up of criteria and constraints. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Modeling, testing, evaluating, and modifying are used to transform ideas into practical solutions. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Apply a design process to solve problems in and beyond the laboratory-classroom. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Specify criteria and constraints for the design. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Make two-dimensional and three-dimensional representations of the designed solution. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Test and evaluate the design in relation to pre-established requirements, such as criteria and constraints, and refine as needed. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Transportation vehicles are made up of subsystems, such as structural propulsion, suspension, guidance, control, and support, that must function together for a system to work effectively. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Describe different ways in which a problem can be represented, e.g., sketches, diagrams, graphic organizers, and lists. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify and compare examples of transportation systems and devices that operate on or in each of the following: land, air, water, and space. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify and describe three subsystems of a transportation vehicle or device, i.e., structural, propulsion, guidance, suspension, control, and support. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Describe and explain parts of a structure, e.g., foundation, flooring, decking, wall, roofing systems. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify and explain the steps of the engineering design process, i.e., identify the need or problem, research the problem, develop possible solutions, select the best possible solution(s), construct a prototype, test and evaluate, communicate the solution(s), and redesign. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify appropriate materials, tools, and machines needed to construct a prototype of a given engineering design. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Given a design task, identify appropriate materials (e.g., wood, paper, plastic, aggregates, ceramics, metals, solvents, adhesives) based on specific properties and characteristics (e.g., strength, hardness, and flexibility). (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Describe and explain the purpose of a given prototype. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

  • books on Egypt, for research
  • computers with internet access
  • pencils and paper for note-taking and drawing
  • (optional) CAD software
  • a variety of ancient and modern building materials and tools (to be determined by teams with request lists given to the teacher)
  • a water table, for testing the prototype barges
  • a flat object to create waves
  • electric cooling fan

Introduction/Motivation

Ancient Egyptians believed in an underworld known as the Duat. They believed the underworld was filled with perils such as executioners, poisonous snakes, and lakes of fires.

In the underworld, the deceased had to use the Book of the Dead, which contained spells to counteract the dangers and a map to navigate their way. Both the Book of the Dead and the map of the underworld were placed in the coffin or transcribed in hieroglyphics on the coffin.

The mummy was placed on a funerary barge while it traversed through the underworld. The ultimate danger in the underworld was the weighing of the heart; the dead person's heart was weighed against his past deeds. The goddesses interrogated the dead person, accusing him/her of crimes, and if s/he told the truth s/he would survive in the afterlife; however, if s/he lied, the goddesses would call upon the Devourer of the Dead to eat up his/her heart.

Procedure

Overview

In groups of four, students design models of Egyptian funerary barges to transport mummies through the underworld to the afterlife. According to ancient traditions, the boat design is extremely critical in order for the mummy to have a chance to reach and enter the afterlife, so in planning the boat designs, students must be aware of the perils of the underworld.

To design and construct the boats, student are given the materials and tools the ancient Egyptians had at their disposal. Once the students have determined their boat designs, ask them to create prototypes using the materials the ancient Egyptians used. Next, students are given the opportunity to use new materials and techniques, which are in fact based on Egyptian construction technologies.

Throughout the design challenge, as students work through the steps of the engineering design process, guide them to keep in mind the similarities and differences of the boat designs made with ancient Egyptian materials and tools (technologies) compared to today's technologies.

Design Process Step 1 – Identify the Problem:

The Challenge: Design an Egyptian funerary barge to transport a mummy safely through the underworld to the afterlife. Two designs: One using ancient materials and tools and one using modern materials and tools/technologies.

Design Process Step 2 – Research:

Provide students with computers that have Internet access to research the different materials and construction technologies ancient Egyptians used. Have students take notes on a few tool and construction technologies. Then, have students research and take notes on the different modern technologies that would be useful in creating a barge for a successful voyage through the underworld to the afterlife.

Design Process Step 3 - Develop Solutions and Selection:

Create several sketches/drawings (by hand or using a simple CAD program) of the design ideas for boats that would have been created in ancient Egypt using the materials and techniques of the times, as well as boats with modifications as a result of today's technologies. Once finished creating multiple design possibilities, select the best design for both the ancient boat and the modern boat. This requires some team discussion as to which boats they perceive will be most successful in traveling through the treacherous underworld.

Design Process Step 4 - Develop a Prototype:

Divide and conquer: Within the groups of four students, have two construct ancient Egyptian boat prototypes and the other two construct modern boat prototypes. Both boats will go on the same journey through the underworld, with an ultimate destination to the afterlife. Materials for both ancient and modern designs are at the students' discretion. Have students make lists of materials and tools needed for each boat design. Construct the prototypes.

Design Process Step 5 - Test and Evaluate:

Using a water table, test the boats and determine which would be successful in traveling through the underworld. Simulate conditions of the underworld and its dangers, such as as applying pressure, wind currents, and rough seas using fans and slapping the surface of the water with a flat object. As time permits, give students time to re-design and improve their prototype barges based on testing results.

Design Process Step 6 - Communicate:

Once students have completed the design/build/test portion of the activity, it is very important that they have the opportunity to present their designs to the other teams. After viewing all presentations, lead a class discussion in which students discuss and decide which team had the strongest boats and why.

Assessment

By comparing the different materials and techniques developed by ancient Egyptians with modern materials and techniques, students see how modern builders have evolved the earlier techniques. Evaluate students using criteria such as their ability to differentiate between the ancient and modern technologies, ability to recognize why prototype designs were strong or weak, presentation style and content, and creativity.

Contributors

Heather Blackwell; Bryan Licciadri; Anthony Trinh

Copyright

© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2005 Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Supporting Program

Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University

Last modified: February 8, 2018

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