It’s been over two years since my last fieldwork in Egypt but with a collection of over 16,000 items from ancient Egypt there’s always some digging to be done in the museum storerooms! I was recently digitising all of our Greek papyri from Egypt for Dr Nikolaos Gonis, a papyrologist at University College London. It turns out we have a lot of interesting material from the 5th-6th centuries AD and Nikolaos is going to publish them all as a book.
It was whilst searching for papyrus in every possible storeroom that I found a copy of the Book of the Dead. I had never seen this before and copies are relatively rare – I think we probably have the most in the north of England. It’s formed from three sheets of papyrus that were pasted together and rolled up to be deposited in a tomb. We have one example of a Book of the Dead that is still rolled up and stuck between the arm and the body of a mummy.
There are two sheets of hieratic writing (a cursive form of hieroglyphs) and a sheet with a vignette that shows the owner before the falcon-headed god Ra-Horakhty seated on a throne. The owner is called Amenkhau which means 'Amun has appeared'. This name was popular at the end of the New Kingdom and the early Third Intermediate Period. The style of this Book of the Dead suggests it's from the 21st Dynasty, about 1069-945 BC. I've showed it to some of the Egyptologists at the University of Liverpool who got very excited and look forward to using it in their teaching. There is some damage to the papyrus in places, probably from during World War Two when the Egyptian gallery was destroyed by a fire-bomb. After some conservation work we'd also like to display it too, perhaps using it in an exhibition if not our own Ancient Egypt gallery. It's not marked with an accession number so it’s hard to know for sure how it entered our collections. However, the style of mounting on fabric looks very much like some other papyri donated to us by Joseph Mayer in 1867. This mounting was done by the notorious forger of Greek texts, Constantine Simonides in 1860/1. Hopefully we'll be seeing more of Amenkhau's Book of the Dead in the future!
Accession no. LIV.2013.17