Fragments of an important manuscript of the Egyptian Book of the Dead

Dr John Taylor works with the fragments belonging to Queensland Museum On the 16 April 2012 Dr John Taylor (Assistant Keeper, Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum) had the opportunity to examine over 100 fragments of a book of the dead held by the Queensland Museum and concluded that they were fragments from a significant book of the dead held by the British Museum.

The owner is named as the Chief Builder of the temple of Amun: Amenhotep. This man is believed to have held office in the reign of King Amenhotep II (the great-great grandfather of Tutankhamun). Amenhotep II's reign was at the peak of the New Kingdom (ca. 1420 BC), the period of Egypt’s greatest prosperity. There is a possibility that the builder Amenhotep was responsible for constructing some of the structures at Karnak.

Other parts of this extensive manuscript are held by the British Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and several smaller institutions (University Library of Amsterdam, the Redwood Library, Newport and a private collection in Stockholm).

Amenhotep’s title indicates that he was an official of very high rank. He is known from numerous other monuments from his tomb, including the coffin (lid in Eton College and the coffin in Sweden), a mummy mask (Metropolitan Museum, New York) and a set of canopic jars (The Art Institute of Chicago). The papyrus is an early example of a Book of the Dead manuscript, and has several unusual features: borders featuring five pointed stars and sun-disks along the top and bottom, and a large inscription in one line on the back of the papyrus.

This exciting new discovery helps to complete a very significant document which has been dispersed for over 100 years. Over 100 fragments exist in the QM collection, and already two have been joined together. Given time to document and study the fragments, there is a strong possibility that many of them could be rejoined.

Preliminary examination of the text indicates that the whole manuscript was written to order for Amenhotep, rather than having been prepared in advance with blank spaces left for the name. If the spells on the QM fragments can be identified, it will be possible to make an instructive comparison with the texts preserved on the other portions of the papyrus. This might give useful insights into the way in which such a Book of the Dead was planned.

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