Archaeologists have confirmed that a papyrus scroll discovered at the Saqquara necropolis site near Cairo last year does indeed contain texts from the Egyptian 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 parchment was dubbed the “waziri papyrus”. It is currently being translated into Arabic.
1999 movie fans The mom know that the egyptian book of the dead plays a key role in bringing the cursed high priest Imhotep back to terrorize the living. The reality is naturally quite different: notably, there is no magical copy of the book of the dead, as depicted in the film; there have been 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 aid the deceased in their journey through the underworld (Duat)—not to bring people back from the dead—and they are not holy texts like the Bible or the Koran. They were originally 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.
One of the most famous spells is the “Weighing of the Heart” (designated 125 by scholars), dating from around 1475 BC, the time when copies of the book of the dead were commonly written on papyrus. Anubis would take the deceased to Osiris, where they would swear that they had not committed any of the listed 42 “sins”, and their heart would be weighed in a balance against a feather to determine whether they were worthy of a place in the afterlife. (Those who watched moon knight You’ll remember a version of this ceremony depicted in one of the later episodes, conducted by the hippopotamus-headed Egyptian goddess of childbirth and fertility, Taweret.) Of the 192 spells currently known – no manuscript contains them all – there are several protection spells for guarding against damage or loss of the heart, and in one case (30b) begging the heart not to “betray” its owner during the weighing ritual by “telling lies in the presence of the god”.
copies of book of the dead were made to order by scribes, and scrolls could be as short as 1 meter (3.2 feet) and as long as 40 meters (about 131 feet). People knew about the existence of such scrolls in the Middle Ages and assumed 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 these texts. The best-known example to date is the Papyrus of Ani, discovered in Luxor in 1888 and now housed in the British Museum. But such finds are increasingly rare.
The Saqqara necropolis served the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis and has numerous pyramids, including the Step Pyramid of Djoser, the design and construction of which is generally attributed to Imhotep, chancellor of Pharaoh Djoser (and later immortalized as the monster in The mom). Saqqara was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, although looters during the 2011 Egyptian protests broke into warehouses and did some damage to the site that year. Over the years, archaeologists have unearthed many tombs, artifacts, and mummies as they excavated the site: a rare golden burial mask and several dozen mummy caches in 2018, for example, or statues of various gods and several completely sealed sarcophagi in 2020.
In March 2022, archaeologists uncovered five 4,000-year-old tombs, recovering 250 painted wooden sarcophagi containing complete mummies and 150 figurines of various gods from the site’s Cemetery of Ancient Animals. There was also a collection of cosmetics, bronze vases and a sistrum (percussion musical instrument). One of the sarcophagi also contained a papyrus scroll believed to measure around 9 meters (29.5 feet) and contained a chapter from the book of the dead written in hieroglyphs. It was sent to the laboratory of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo for further study.
After the papyrus was fully restored, it measured 16 meters (about 52.5 feet). And scholars have now confirmed that the scroll does indeed contain 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 later this year.