The few indications that have come down to us of ancient sea-traffic between the countries lying around the shores of the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean are so fragmentary and obscure that it is extremely difficult to reconstruct any definite picture of their character and extent. In spite of this handicap study of the meagre evidence available compels the belief that movement by sea, although of a fluctuating character and confined for the most part to coastwise voyaging, was far more active and advanced in parts of this area in very early times than is generally realized. Had it been otherwise how could we interpret the signs graven on the rocks of the ravines of the Egyptian desert, and the transport by sea of great blocks of stone to Sumer in the time of Gudea of Lagash?
The earliest evidence at present available comes from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, though it does not follow that either area is the cradle of sea-faring. It consists of :—
(A) innumerable prehistoric and predynastic petroglyphs of ships engraved upon the rocks of the eastern desert of Egypt, particularly those in the Wadi Hammamat region;
(B) the discovery on Sumerian sites of diorite statues, stated specifically to have been brought by sea from foreign lands early in the third millennium B.C.;
(c) the presence in the ruins of Ur, Kish, and Lagash of artifacts cut from the shell of the sacred Indian chank (Xancus pyrum);
(D) historical records of trading expeditions sent by sea from Egypt to Somaliland extending from the Vth to the XIIth Dynasties, and repeated in the XVIIIth Dynasty.