In one of the sarcophagi recently discovered on the Saqqara plateau (Egypt), archaeologists have unearthed a funeral text that is 4000 years old. This is believed to be one of the oldest versions of the famous Book of the Dead.
An old version of the Book of the Dead
On October 4, 2020, archaeologists unearthed 59 sarcophagi on the Saqqara plateau, in the ancient necropolis of Memphis (Egypt). The researchers put these relics through the first battery of examinations and made an important discovery. In an article published by Egypt Today on October 14, 2020, it is about writings on the walls of one of these sarcophagi. Archaeologists believe this is an introduction to the Book of the Dead, one of the most famous funerary texts from ancient Egypt. However, the researchers estimate that this version would be at least 4,000 years old and could be the oldest version of the book.
Let us remember that the Book of the Dead is a religious text which was intended to provide instructions to the dead. These were intended to help the deceased survive in the afterlife in his second life. This work was a reference from the beginning of the New Kingdom (1539-1080 BC), and this, for 1,500 years.
New research to come
Used by individuals, this collection of religious formulas was usually found on papyrus. Since the New Kingdom, the formulas of these texts have varied greatly until the Late Epoch (664-332 BC). These formulas pre-existing before the Book of the Dead until the Middle Kingdom (around 2022-1650 BC) were copied directly from the walls of the sarcophagi. However, like the Book of the Dead, these Sarcophagus Texts did not have canonical versions. Thus, other funeral books existed. One example is the Book of Two Ways, a sort of topographical map of the beyond identifying the locations of dangers. Let us also evoke the Book of Shou and the Book of the four winds.
According to archaeologists, the text inscribed on the sarcophagus dates from the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, during the reign of Pharaoh Montuhotep II. However, the formula in question was until now only known in the Book of the Dead of the New Kingdom, which appeared centuries later. This, therefore, raises questions about the precursor links that the different texts may have had. Opening the door to new research, the sarcophagi of Saqqarah was naturally qualified as a very important discovery by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.