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April 21, 2012

Last Segments of Egyptian Book of the Dead Found

The archaeology of Ancient Egypt has always fascinated me, and I get a thrill when I hear about new discoveries about the ancient tombs, Pharaohs, or whatever. I know I have a few fellow travelers in that respect.

After yesterday's super-serious post, I thought I would present to you something that's more intriguing than anger-inducing.

Did you ever see The Mummy, with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz?

One of the objects in the movie, and one that causes a bunch of problems for our heroes, is the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Evelyn (Weisz) reads a passage from the Book and it brings to life the ancient mummy Imhotep, a High Priest that was entombed for falling in love with the mistress of the Pharaoh.

We all know that these types of movies have tons of historical inaccuracies, but that's beside the point. They're a hell of a lot of fun. One inaccuracy is, of course, that they didn't have books back in Ancient Egypt. By "books," I mean bound copies with pages that you flip, even if they do appear to be metal plates or something like that in the movie.

No, they wrote everything on papyrus scrolls. Like this:

(Thanks to the Daily Mail)

The real Book of the Dead, or at least the most famous one, has been an incomplete set of papyrus scrolls and fragments that have been collected from museums over the last 100 years. But some pieces were still missing.

Until now.

Apparently, according to the Daily Mail, the last remaining pieces of this particular manuscript have been found in a museum in Queensland, Australia.
"‘After spotting the piece Dr Taylor was shown the other 100 plus fragments held in the Museum’s stores and was floored by what he had uncovered,’ Ms Bates said.

‘These unsuspecting papyrus pieces form the missing part of a highly historically valuable ‘Book of the Dead’ that belonged to the Chief Builder of the temple of Amun, Amenhotep."
I see what the producers of the movie did there. Nice subtle name change.

So what is a "Book of the Dead?"
"A ‘Book of the Dead’ is an Egyptian manuscript, up to 20 metres in length, of magical spells written on papyrus that were commissioned by families upon the death of a loved one to guide them on their hazardous journey into the afterlife."
There are apparently many books like this, but this one is special because it's one of only four or five that have "unusual features" compared to the rest of them. These sorts of things appear to indicate that a person was quite wealthy and influential.

Now that they've found these missing pieces, they can put them all together and electronically join them together into one actual book. The missing pieces have made it impossible to do that until now.

This also speaks to the sci-fi nerd in me. Does that surprise you?

It shouldn't, if you're a Dr. Who fan. Many of the older Dr. Who episodes were lost because the BBC deleted them back in the old days rather than keeping them. So for the past 30 years, missing episodes have occasionally resurfaced when found in an attic bin of an old collector or what have you, overlooked for years, sometimes in a film canister that wasn't labelled.

This kind of find reminds me of those Dr. Who episodes. Hiding in plain sight, with nobody who sees these pages daily even realizing what they have until somebody who knows what they're seeing actually spots it and brings it to our attention. These pages were donated to the museum by a collector and have been sitting there for years.

Yet another ancient mystery solved! Now if they can only determine what the Sphinx really is.

Oh wait. Somebody's already done that.


  1. I had a different understanding of the purpose behind the Books of the Dead. I understood them to be a set of mystic rites for the priests who controlled the Temples of the Dead and took care of the embalming rites; perhaps there were multi-fold applications of these instructions.

    Off topic, I met someone recently who has a home in Egypt and I have been invited to visit! Wow, right? Not sure when that will occur, but it's been a lifelong dream and I hope to be able to achieve it soon. :)

    - Dawn

  2. I have no idea who's right, so it's very possible the newspaper's full of it. :)

    That is very cool! I hope you're able to do so soon. I'm jealous. :P


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