Archaeologists have discovered a new papyrus of the Egyptian Book of the Dead

Archaeologists have discovered a new papyrus of the Egyptian Book of the Dead

Beispielillustration aus einem ägyptischen <em data-recalc-dims=Book of the Dead – not the newly discovered papyrus – showing the ” weighing=”” of=”” the=”” heart.=””/>

Enlarge / Sample illustration of an Egyptian Book of the Dead– not the newly discovered papyrus – depicting the “weighing of the heart”.

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Archaeologists have confirmed that a papyrus scroll discovered last year at the Saqquara necropolis near Cairo does in fact contain Egyptian texts Book of the Dead– the first time in a century that a complete papyrus has been found, according to Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt. The scroll has been dubbed the “Waziri Papyrus.” It is currently being translated into Arabic.

Fans of the 1999 film The Mummy know the Egyptians Book of the Dead plays a key role in bringing back the cursed High Priest Imhotep to terrorize the living. The reality is of course very different: In particular, there is not a magical copy of the Book of the Dead, as depicted in the film; Many versions have existed over the centuries, all unique, with a range of spells often tailored to the specific needs of late kings and (later) high-ranking members of Egyptian society.

These “books” were actually collections of funeral texts and spells to aid the deceased in their journey through the underworld (duat) – not to bring people back from the dead – and they are not sacred texts like the Bible or the Quran. They were originally painted on objects or written on the walls of burial chambers. Over time illustrations were added and spells were also engraved on the inside of coffins or on the linen cloths used to wrap the deceased.

The Step Pyramid of Djoser, Saqqara, Egypt.
Enlarge / The Step Pyramid of Djoser, Saqqara, Egypt.

Nick Brundle Photography/Getty Images

One of the most famous spells is the “rocking of the heart” (referred to by scholars as 125) from around 1475 BC Book of the Dead were usually written on papyrus. Anubis would lead the deceased before Osiris, where they would swear they had committed none of the 42 “sins” listed, and their hearts would be weighed on a scale against a feather to determine if they were worthy of a place in the afterlife. (Those who watched moon knight I will recall a version of this ceremony, depicted in one of the later episodes, performed by the hippopotamus-headed Egyptian goddess of childbirth and fertility, Taweret.) Of the 192 spells known at present – no single manuscript contains them all – exist several wards to protect itself from damage or loss of the heart, and in one instance (30b) imploring the heart not to “betray” its owner during the cradle ritual by “telling lies in the presence of the god”.

copies of Book of the Dead were made to order by scribes, and the scrolls could be as short as 1 meter (3.2 ft) and as long as 40 meters (about 131 ft). People knew of the existence of such scrolls in the Middle Ages and assumed that they were religious in nature because they were found in tombs. Karl Richard Lepsius coined the name Book of the Dead 1842 after the translation of such a text. The best-known example to date is the Papyrus of Ani, discovered at Luxor in 1888 and now housed in the British Museum. But such finds are becoming increasingly rare.

Last year, archaeologists discovered a cache of 250 complete mummies in painted wooden sarcophagi at the Saqqara necropolis near Cairo
Enlarge / Last year, archaeologists discovered a cache of 250 complete mummies in painted wooden sarcophagi at the Saqqara necropolis near Cairo

Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Serving the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, the Saqqara necropolis features numerous pyramids, including the step pyramid of Djoser, which is usually credited with the design and construction of Imhotep, chancellor of Pharaoh Djoser (and later when the monster was immortalized). The Mummy). Saqqara was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, although looters broke into storerooms during Egyptian protests in 2011, causing some damage to the site that year. Over the years, archaeologists have unearthed many tombs, artifacts and mummies during excavations: in 2018, for example, a rare gilded funerary mask and several dozen mummy beds, or in 2020 statues of various gods and a number of fully sealed sarcophagi.

In March 2022, archaeologists uncovered five 4,000-year-old tombs and recovered 250 painted wooden sarcophagi containing complete mummies and 150 statuettes of various gods at the site’s ancient animal cemetery. There was also a collection of cosmetics, bronze vessels and a sistrum (percussion musical instrument). One of the sarcophagi also contained a papyrus scroll which they believed to be about 9 meters (29.5 ft) long and a chapter of the Book of the Dead written in hieroglyphs. It was sent to the Egyptian Museum laboratory in Cairo for further study.

After the papyrus was fully restored, it actually measured 16 meters (about 52.5 feet). And scholars have now confirmed that the scroll does indeed contain spells from the Book of the Dead. According to Waziri, the papyrus will be presented at the opening of the Great Egyptian Museum in Cairo sometime this year.

There’s never any harm in reading a book…right? Classic scene from the 1999s The Mummy.

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