Archeologists recently recovered a nearly 16-meter (52-foot) long ancient Egyptian papyrus writing from a tomb in Saqqara, Egypt. The writing — which is more than 2,000 years old — was found inside a coffin and contained a portion of the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
Experts have already completed the work needed to preserve the papyrus, and are translating the writing into Arabic to better understand what it means and why it was placed in its specific coffin.
What is the Book of the Dead?
According to Getty, the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead is the modern term to describe a collection of Egyptian funerary spells meant to guide the recently deceased to the afterlife to unite with Osiris, the Egyptian God of the Dead.
The concept of the Book of the Dead initially developed from spells found inscribed on coffins and other objects around 1650 B.C. As time went on, and ancient Egypt transitioned between kingdoms, scribes began writing portions of the Book of the Dead on papyrus scrolls.
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Over time, it is evident that some ancient Egyptians grew to have a more personal relationship with the Book of the Dead. Some mummies have been discovered wrapped in cloth with portions of the Book of the Dead written on them, putting their bodies in direct contact with the text.
The papyri scrolls that have been discovered come from a variety of different time periods across ancient Egyptian history. According to Getty, Book of the Dead spells were meant to be read aloud. By writing the spells of objects to be placed inside a coffin, the mummy could recite the spells.
Larger Implications for Egyptians
While plenty of other Book of the Dead scrolls have been discovered and currently sit in museums worldwide, this most recent finding could reveal more about Egyptian funerary practices.
Additionally, according to a translated statement released on Jan. 16, 2023, the 52-foot papyrus is the first full-length writing to be recovered from Saqqara in nearly 100 years.
However, other partial papyri were recently found at the Saqqara site, including one just last year when archeologists discovered a 13-foot-long scroll containing portions of the Book of the Dead.
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It's important to note that the most recent, 52-foot find is not the longest ancient Egyptian papyrus scroll ever found. That honor goes to certain Book of the Dead scrolls that measure almost 100 feet in length.
According to the translated statement, the 52-foot papyrus scroll will soon be displayed in an Egyptian museum. Researchers hope that the scroll will not only answer questions about ancient Egyptian funerary practices but about wider ancient Egyptian beliefs as well.