|A huge stone was removed from the burial site as archaeologists began excavating one of Pharoah Khufu's ships [AFP]
A team of archaeologists in Egypt has begun excavating a 4,500-year-old wooden ship found next to the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the country's main tourist attractions, Egypt's senior antiquities official has said.
The boat is one of two buried next to Pharaoh Khufu in what appeared to be a religious custom to carry him into the afterlife. Khufu, also known as Cheops, is credited with building the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Using a pulley system, the scientists lifted the first of 41 limestone slabs on Thursday, each weighing about 16 tonnes, to uncover fragments of the ancient ship.
Over the next two months, experts expect to unearth about 600 pieces from the boat's underground resting place.
Restoration is expected to take about four years, and then it will be displayed at the Solar Boat Museum near the huge pyramid, which routinely attracts millions of tourists, boosting one of Egypt's most important industries.
Zahi Hawass, minister of state for antiquities, called the excavation, which is being carried out in collaboration with a Japanese archaeology mission, "one of the most important archaeological and conservation projects in the world.''
Sakuji Yoshimura, a Waseda University professor who is leading the restoration project with Egypt's Antiquities Council, said scientists discovered that the second ship is inscribed with Khufu's name.
Khufu founded the Fourth Dynasty around 2680 BC and ruled Egypt for 23 years.
The boat was originally found in 1954 along with another ship, which was restored and is regarded as one of the most significant discoveries on the Giza plateau for its age, size and condition.
Experts say it is among two ships that are the oldest surviving vessels from antiquity. The second boat is thought to be smaller than its sister ship, which is about 43 metres long.
Hawass hoped the boat's display would boost tourism in Egypt, which has fallen sharply since the country's popular revolution that deposed former president Hosni Mubarak in February.