Archaeologists discover a new papyrus from the Egyptian Book of the Dead

Archaeologists discover a new papyrus from the Egyptian Book of the Dead

Ilustración de muestra de un <em data-recalc-dims=Book of the Dead Egyptian, not from the newly discovered papyrus, which represents the ” weighing=”” of=”” the=”” heart.=””/>

Enlarge / Illustration example of an Egyptian Book of the Dead—not the newly discovered papyrus— which represents the “weighing of the heart.”

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Archaeologists have confirmed that a papyrus scroll discovered at the Saqquara necropolis site near Cairo last year contains Egyptian texts. Book of the Dead—the first time a complete papyrus has been found in a century, according to Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. The scroll has been nicknamed the “Waziri papyrus”. It is currently being translated into Arabic.

1999 movie fans The Mummy know that the egyptian Book of the Dead he 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 no magic copy of the Book of the Dead, as shown in the movie; there were many versions over the centuries, all unique, with the choice of spells often tailored to the specific needs of deceased royalty and (later) high-ranking members of Egyptian society.

These “books” were actually collections of funerary texts and spells to help the deceased on their journey through the underworld (Duat)—not to resurrect people—and they are not holy texts like the Bible or the Koran. Originally they were painted on objects or written on the walls of burial chambers. Over time, illustrations were added and spells were also inscribed inside the coffins or on the linen shrouds used to wrap the deceased.

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

Photograph by Nick Brundle/fake images

One of the most famous spells is the “Weighing of the Heart” (designated 125 by scholars), dating to around 1475 BC. Book of the Dead they were commonly written on papyrus. Anubis would take the deceased before Osiris, where they would swear that they had not committed any of the 42 “sins” listed, and his heart would be weighed on a scale against a feather to determine if they were worthy of a place in the afterlife. (Those who looked moon knight You may recall a version of this ceremony enacted in one of the later episodes, performed by the hippopotamus-headed Egyptian goddess of childbirth and fertility, Taweret.) Of the 192 currently known spells (no manuscript contains them all), there are several protective spells . to protect against damage or loss of the heart, and in one case (30b) imploring the heart not to “betray” its owner during the weigh-in ritual by “telling lies in the presence of the god”.

copies of the Book of the Dead Scribes made them to order, and the scrolls could measure as little as 1 meter (3.2 feet) and as long as 40 meters (about 131 feet). 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 in 1842 after translating one of those texts. The best known example to date is the Ani Papyrus, discovered in Luxor in 1888 and now in the British Museum. But such finds are becoming rarer.

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

Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

The Saqqara necropolis served the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis and features numerous pyramids, including the Step Pyramid of Djoser, the design and construction of which is often attributed to Imhotep, chancellor to Pharaoh Djoser (and later immortalized as the monster in The Mummy). Saqqara was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, although looters during the 2011 Egyptian protests broke into warehouses and caused some damage to the site that year. Over the years, archaeologists have unearthed many tombs, artifacts, and mummies while excavating the site: a rare golden funerary mask and several dozen mummies in 2018, for example, or statues of various gods and several completely sealed sarcophagi in 2020. . .

In March 2022, archaeologists discovered five 4,000-year-old tombs, recovering 250 painted wooden sarcophagi containing complete mummies and 150 figurines of various gods at the site’s Cemetery of Ancient Animals. There was also a collection of cosmetics, bronze vessels, and a sistrum (percussion musical instrument). One of the sarcophagi also contained a papyrus scroll believed to be about 9 meters (29.5 feet) long and contained a chapter from the Book of the Dead written in hieroglyphics. He was sent to the laboratory of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo for further study on him.

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

Nothing bad ever happened from reading a book… right? Classic scene from 1999 The Mummy.

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