A 16-meter-long (52.5 ft) papyrus was discovered recently in an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus by a team of archaeologists. It is the first complete papyrus text to be found in over a century.
The discovery was made in Saqqara, a necropolis that served the ancient city of Memphis as a burial place for the pharaohs and Egyptian royalty. The recently-discovered papyrus dates to about 50 BC, when the Ptolemaic dynasty ruled Egypt.
The papyrus contains texts from the Pharaonic Book of the Dead, including magic spells intended to guide the deceased safely through the underworld.
The first complete ancient Egyptian papyrus found in over 100 years
The Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Mostafa Waziri, announced the discovery in January 2023. Waziri noted that it was the first papyrus text found in a state of completion for at least a century.
The papyrus was discovered in one of the 250 caskets uncovered at the Saqqara site last year. Saqqara was used by ancient Egyptians as a necropolis as far back as the early Bronze Age when the First Dynasty ruled Egypt. The recent find dates back to 50 BC, when the Ptolemaic dynasty, a Hellenistic successor kingdom of Alexander the Great, was in power in Egypt.
The ancient text, which has been dubbed the “Waziri Papyrus”, was carefully taken to the restoration laboratory of the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir. At first, the researchers believed that the papyrus was 9 meters long (29.5 ft), but the restoration process revealed a length of 16 meters (52.5 ft).
This significant historical find will be displayed in the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is currently still under construction. When the museum is complete, it will be the largest archaeological museum in the world.
The Pharaonic Book of the Dead
According to Waziri, the scientists responsible for translating the papyrus found that it contained texts from the Pharaonic Book of the Dead. The closest literal translation of the book’s name would be “Book of Coming Forth by Day” or “Book of Emerging Forth into the Light”.
The Book of the Dead was a loose collection of texts, often in papyrus form, that would be placed in the coffin or burial place of the deceased. They contained instructions and magic spells to help the dead pass through the underworld, known to the ancient Egyptians as the Duat.
Earlier spells and texts were added to the walls of burial chambers or on coffins. Many of these texts were later copied onto papyri as part of the Book of the Dead. The book itself was not canonical and changed over the course of ancient Egypt’s long history.