Archaeologists have confirmed that a papyrus scroll discovered at the Saqquara necropolis site near Cairo last year contains Egyptian texts. The Book of the Dead—the first time a complete papyrus has been discovered in a century, according to Mostafa Waziri, secretary-General of the Council of Antiquities in Egypt. The scroll is called “Waziri papyrus”. It is currently being translated into Arabic.
Fans of the movie 1999 The Grandma know that the Egyptian The Book of the Dead He plays a key role in bringing back the cursed high priest Imhotep to terrorize the living. The reality is naturally very different: in particular, there is not one magical copy of the The Book of the Dead, as depicted in the film; There have been many versions over the centuries, all unique, and the choice of spells was often tailored to the specific needs of deceased dynasties and (later) high-ranking members of Egyptian society.
These “books” were collections of funerary texts and spells to help the deceased on their journey through the underworld (For you)—not bringing people back from the dead—and they are not sacred texts such as the Bible or the Qur-an. At first they were painted on objects or written on the walls of the burial chambers. Over time, illustrations were added and spells were also inscribed on the inside of coffins or on the linen covers used to cover the deceased.
One of the most famous spells is “Weighing the Heart” (named 125 by scholars), dating to around 1475 BCE, by which time copies of The Book of the Dead was commonly written on papyrus. Anubis would preside over the deceased before Osiris, where they would swear that he had not committed any of the 42 “sins” listed, and their heart was weighed on a pair of scales against a feather to determine the they were even in a place in the afterlife. (Those who watched Moon Knight I will remember a version of this ceremony depicted in one of the later episodes, conducted by the Egyptian goddess of birth and fertility, Taweret.) Of the 192 spells currently known—not a single manuscript of them all— there are a number of protective spells to guard against damage or loss of the heart, and in one case (30b) begging the heart not to “betray” its owner during the meditative ritual by “telling lies in presence the god”.
Copies of the The Book of the Dead the scribes made them to order, and the scrolls could be as short as 1 meter (3.2 feet) and as long as 40 meters (about 131 feet). People knew that such scrolls existed in the Middle Ages, and assumed that they were religious in nature because they were found in tombs. Karl Richard Lepsius coined the name The Book of the Dead in 1842 after translating one such text. The most famous example to date is the Papyrus Ani, discovered in Luxor in 1888 and now housed in the British Museum. But such finds are becoming increasingly rare.
The Saqqara necropolis served as the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, and is home to numerous pyramids, including the Step Pyramid of Djoser, whose design and construction is usually attributed to Imhotep, the chancellor of the Pharoah Djoser (and later immortality as the monster i The Grandma). UNESCO named Saqqara a World Heritage Site in 1979, although looters during the 2011 Egyptian protests broke into storerooms and caused some damage to the site that year. Over the years, archaeologists have found many tombs, artifacts and mummies while excavating the site: a rare gilded burial mask and several dozen hoards of mummies in 2018, for example, or statues of various gods and several sarcophagi completely sealed in 2020.
In March 2022, archaeologists discovered five 4000-year-old tombs, recovering 250 painted wooden sarcophagi containing full mummies and 150 statues 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 was about 9 meters (29.5 feet) and contained a chapter of The Book of the Dead written in hieroglyphics. It was sent to the laboratory of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo for further study.
When the papyrus was fully restored, it measured 16 meters (about 52.5 feet). And scholars have now confirmed that there are indeed spells from the scroll The Book of the Dead. According to Waziri, the papyrus will be presented at the opening of the National Museum of Egypt in Cairo sometime this year.