Friday, June 18, 2010

Exhibition: Journey through the afterlife (British Museum)

Reuters Africa

Papyri from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, a series of spells designed to help guide the dead through the afterlife, will be at the centre of a new show at the British Museum this November.

The star item is likely to be the Greenfield Papyrus, which the London museum called the world's longest Book of the Dead at 37 metres (yards). It has never been shown publicly in its entirety before.

"Journey through the afterlife: ancient Egypt Book of the Dead", sponsored by BP, will run from November 4 to March 6, 2011 in the museum's central Reading Room, used for a series of successful "blockbuster" exhibitions in recent years.

The "book", which is not a single text but a compilation of spells, was used between around 1600 BC and 100 AD and explains much about ancient Egypt's complex belief systems where death and the afterlife were a central focus.

The Guardian, UK (Adam Gabbatt)

It doesn't sound like an ideal day out: a journey punctuated by encounters with crocodiles, snakes and demons, which culminates with your heart being weighed against the balance of good and evil.

These were the ordeals the ancient Egyptians believed they faced en route to the afterlife. Now the route is being recreated for visitors to the British Museum.

Announced today, the museum's showpiece autumn exhibition will draw on its "unparalleled" collection of Egyptian books of the dead, collections of spells provided to help the departed find their way.

The exhibition, Journey Through the Afterlife, which is supported by BP, will include pieces from museums in France and the US in what its curator said was the first international exhibition of such manuscripts.

The Independent, UK

The compilation of texts known today as the "Book of the Dead" was called "Going Forth by Day" by the Egyptians. Leaving the tomb and the Netherworld was one of the main goals of the deceased. "Going forth by day" meant both a triumphant journey as a close follower of the sun god and the ability to go to any place in the human world that one desired – for example, the chapel of the tomb where offerings were waiting on the altar.

Texts helping the deceased to reach this goal were ubiquitous in Egyptian elite burials. We find them on tomb walls, coffins, mummy bandages, shrouds and on papyri buried with the mummy. These papyri start to appear in the early 18th dynasty (around 1500 BC), replacing similar texts written on the insides of wooden coffins. With only a few interruptions, they continued to be standard for elite burials until the 1st century BC, maybe even a bit longer.

The incredible number of Books of the Dead makes them a major resource for the study of many aspects of Egyptian culture – one research project at Bonn University has collected more than 3,500 and none looks exactly like any other.

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