Archaeology

Two Egyptian Book Of The Dead Shroud Fragments Have Been Reunited!

Thanks to researchers on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean two ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead shroud fragments, one in New Zealand, and the other one in Los Angeles, have been reunited.

The two fragments were part of a linen death shroud made for Petosiris or Ankhefenkhons, who was the high priest of Thoth at Hermopolis 2,300 years ago. Before Petosiris died, he did a deal with an approved mummy artist so that his mummy shroud would be covered with mystical symbols from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to safeguard his soul’s journey in the afterlife. Never could Petosiris or the ancient Egyptian artist have imagined that at some time in the future somebody in a more modern world would see value in the painted cloth and rip it into fragments.

Now two of the mummy shroud fragments have been “connected” in the order they originally had on the shroud commissioned by Petosiris. The fragment in New Zealand is known as the “Canterbury” fragment and the other one in the U.S. is called the “Getty” fragment. It is unknown how they were torn apart or separated in the first place.

However, the two individual ancient linen fragments have now been digitally reunited after the Canterbury fragment was displayed as a digital image on an open-source online database by the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

Top image:  This fragment of a shroud or mummy wrapping, decorated with themes from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, dates to the early Ptolemaic period around 300 BC and belongs to a museum in New Zealand. ( Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities ). Middle image:  The Egyptian Book of the Dead linen fragment that is housed at the Getty Research Institute. (GRI Open Content Program /  CC BY 4.0 ). Bottom image:  Pieces of a puzzle coming together: the adjoining pieces of mummy shroud wrap. On the right, UC’s Logie Collection fragment held at the Teece Museum of Antiquities and on the left, the adjoining fragment from the Getty Institute in the United States. ( University of Canterbury ).

The Two Egyptian Book of the Dead Death Shroud Fragments

Researchers at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles saw the Canterbury fragment online and immediately recognized that the piece matched the one they had in their collection.

According to  Live Science  the New Zealand and Los Angeles fragments “fit like a puzzle piece.” Alison Griffith, an Egyptian art expert and an associate professor of classics at the University of Canterbury,  said in a statement , that it is “just amazing” to piece fragments together remotely using  digital technology .

The tradition of placing a copy of the  Egyptian Book of the Dead  in burials, and painting illustrations from it onto  mummy linens , began with much older death rituals. “ Pyramid Texts ” were written onto royal tomb walls at Saqqara during the Late Old Kingdom. This was followed by the inclusion of “Coffin Texts,” written on common people’s coffins including wealthy elites.

In the New Kingdom  (around 1539 BC) no matter what class you belonged to, if you could afford a copy of the Book of the Dead, or a scribe to cover your mummy cloth, your body could be wrapped in illustrations from this “Rough Guide” to  the afterlife .

Fragments of Turin papyrus, an ancient Egyptian mining map (right half), for Ramesses IV’s quarrying expedition, 12th century BC (New Kingdom). (Zyzzy /  Public domain )

Shrouds Covered In Afterlife Text and Hieroglyphic Symbols

To understand why ancient Egyptians thought that they required a book, or guide, to serve them after death we must remember that most Egyptians would never have ventured farther than 30 miles (48 km) from where they were born. Even the idea of starting to navigate the afterlife on one’s own, without the collected ancestral knowledge of the priesthood, in today’s terms, would be like being dropped in the Amazon and told to find your way out, without a smartphone.

The original linen shroud fabric, i.e., the two fragments and the “others,” was covered with hieratic ( cursive script ) and lines of  hieroglyphic symbols  illustrating spells and moments on the soul’s journey in the afterlife, from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. 

Griffith told press that when the two pieces were brought together a small gap appeared between them, however, fortunately, this flaw was not enough to mar interpretations of the depicted scene and “the incantation makes sense,” said Griffith.

The “incantation” depicted in the two fragments combined shows “butchers cutting an ox for an offering; men moving furniture for the afterlife; four bearers with nome identifiers (territorial divisions in Egypt), including a hawk, ibis and jackal; a funerary boat with the goddess sisters Isis and Nephthys on either side; and a man pulling a sledge with the image of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the dead,” according to the press statement from the University of Canterbury. Furthermore, the New Zealand researchers point to similar scenes in the famous Turin Papyrus map, which is part of the collection of the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy.

Top image: An Egyptian Book of the Dead manuscript papyrus. Recently two pieces of a death shroud worn by an ancient Egyptian, which had been torn into fragments, were “reunited.” One fragment was from the Getty Museum collection in California and the other fragment was in the collection of the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities in New Zealand.           Source:  francescodemarco / Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie


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