Fragment from the Book of the Dead

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A fragment from the bandages of a mummy showing inscriptions and figures which come from the Book of the Dead. A scene is depicted in which the deceased, with arms raised and in an attitude of worship, is giving an offering of food and a lotus flower to the god Ptah. This god, placed inside the chapel of Lower Egypt, is holding his characteristic “was” sceptre.

Behind the deceased we can see eight lines of hieratic script, a cursive rendition of hieroglyphs, which come from Chapters 81 and 82 of the Book of the Dead. In these chapters the deceased talks in such a manner, using the magic of the moment, to be able to turn himself into a lotus flower first, and later, into the form of the very god, Ptah.

Although this is a small fragment, certain elements can be distinguished which enable us to know the name of the owner, Nefer-ib-pa-Ra, who has the priestly title of father of the God, priest of the lady of the Sycamore. It also mentions the name of the mother: Nefer-Sobek. The fragment comes from two strips of linen from a mummy, strips conserved in the Antwerp Museum, inv. 4941, M. E. Philadelphia 430 B and Uppsala Museum VM MB 224.

The bandages on mummies were generally decorated with spells and, at times, with sketches from the Book of the Dead, so as to offer the wished-for magical protection to the deceased. The practice of placing these inscribed bandages directly on the corpse was essential to ensure access to the Other World.

The Book of the Dead is the modern name for a funerary text of Ancient Egypt which was used from the beginnings of the New Kingdom. The original Egyptian name is conventionally translated by Egyptologists as the “Book of the Break of Day”. The text consisted of a series of magic spells destined to help the deceased get successfully past the judgement of Osiris, to assist them in their voyage through the Duat, the Underworld, and travel to Aaru, in the other life.

This small strip of material has been made from material of a high quality and belongs to a group of well-known objects known as Inscribed Mummy Bandages. The original beige colour has become discoloured to a darker brown. The two extremes ends of the piece of bandage are cut irregularly. The images and the inscription have been made in black ink, made from soot mixed with gelatine, glue and beeswax.

Most examples of the Book of the Dead from the Late and Greco-Roman Periods have been written on papyrus, but from the 5th Century BC onwards, the formulas of this funerary text were also inscribed on mummy bandages, a practice that began in the city of Memphis.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

- Le Livre des Morts des anciens Egyptien. Traducción de Paul Barguet. Littérature ancienne du Proche-Orient - L.A.P.O. 1967.
- Budge, Wallis. EL LIBRO EGIPCIO DE LOS MUERTOS. EL PAPIRO DE ANI. Sirio. 2007.
- KEMP, Barry J. Como leer el Libro de los Muertos. Crítica. 2007.

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