Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered an exceptionally long papyrus scroll containing excerpts from the legendary Book of the Dead alongside the mummified inhabitants of an ancient cemetery. Located within the Tuna el-Gebel necropolis, the newly unearthed graveyard served as the final resting place for senior officials and priests during the New Kingdom, which existed between the sixteenth and eleventh centuries BCE.
Announcing the discovery in a statement, the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities revealed that the cemetery contained “hundreds of archaeological finds, including amulets, ornaments, and stone and wooden coffins containing mummies.” Among the preserved bodies at the site were the remains of a certain “Jahuti Miss,” who held the title of “supervisor of the bulls of the Temple of Amun”, as well as a temple musician called “Mrs Nani”.
Engravings found on another coffin indicated that it belonged to one “Mrs Ta-de-Isa”, daughter of “Eret Haru”, the high priest of a deity known as Djehuti. Alongside the coffin were two wooden boxes containing canopic jars, in which the dead woman’s organs would have been stored.
“The wooden [coffins] are in human shapes, some of which are engraved and colored. Inside are mummies in a good state of preservation,” the statement reads. However, the most striking discovery of all concerned a section of papyrus that contained references to the Book of the Dead.
Measuring between 43 and 49 feet (13 to 15 meters) in length, the ancient paper is described as being in “good condition”, although no further details about its contents are revealed in the statement. Despite its popular name, the Egyptian Book of the Dead was not a book at all, but was actually a collection of spells that were intended to help the souls of the departed navigate the afterlife.
With no formal structure, order, or narrative, the various spells could be assembled in different combinations and buried alongside corpses. No tomb has ever been discovered with the complete collection of chapters.
The incantations included in the Book of the Dead were designed to equip the deceased with phrases that could be recited in order to overcome the many devious beings that inhabited the underworld and blocked the path to Osiris, whom all newly expired individuals had to reach in order to have their soul weighed.
Unfortunately, the statement does not indicate which spells or chapters were included in the lengthy papyrus, nor whom it was buried with.