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What is the Book of the Dead?

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What is the Book of the Dead?

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  1. What is the Book of the Dead? The Book of the Dead is a collection of spells and illustrations written on papyrus. The papyrus was rolled, put inside a hollow statue and placed in the tomb with all the other things which the dead person would need for the afterlife. Unopened Book of the Dead roll Hollow wooden figure of Osiris

  2. Why have the Book of the Deadin your tomb? The Book of the Dead gave the dead person the knowledge and power to travel through the netherworld (a place the dead went to immediately after death) and enter the afterlife (the final destination of their journey). Book of the Dead of Ani showing Ani and his wife

  3. What did the Book of the Deadtell you about? The Book of the Dead told the dead person about the landscape of the netherworld through which they would journey, the gods and hostile creatures they would meet and the final judgement to decide if they would enter the afterlife. Book of the Dead of Anhai

  4. What happened at anancient Egyptian funeral? The day of burial was when the dead person was thought to move from the world of the living to the world of the dead. The Book of the Dead shows the ceremonies that took place at the burial of a wealthy Egyptian. Funerary scene from the Book of the Dead of Ani

  5. What was the mummy for? While the dead person travelled through the netherworld as a spirit (ba) their preserved body (mummy) remained in the tomb. The mummy had to be kept safe so that the ba could reunite with the body. Mummy and ba bird from the Book of the Dead of Ani

  6. What was the netherworld like? The dead person travelled through a landscape with paths, rivers, mountains, caves, lakes and fields. They had to pass through many gates and doors guarded by gods. Gates in the netherworld from the Book of the Dead of Ani

  7. What special powers didthe spells give you? The spells in the Book of the Dead gave the dead person the power to control their body and keep it safe. They also allowed them to turn into different animals, provided information which they would need to repeat at certain points on their journey and offered protection against hostile creatures. Spells for transforming into a swallow and a hawk from the Book of the Dead of Ani

  8. How did you get into the afterlife? The gods judged how the dead person had led their life to decide if they deserved eternal life in the afterlife. The dead person’s heart was weighed against the feather of truth. If shown to be free from evil, they were declared ‘true of voice’ and admitted to the afterlife. If not, their heart was eaten by the Devourer and they would cease to exist – forever… Weighing the heart from the Book of the Dead of Ani

  9. What was the afterlife like? There were several possible afterlives. The dead person might travel with the sun god Ra in his boat sailing though the sky each day and the netherworld each night or they might go to the Field of Reeds, a landscape like Egypt, with rivers to sail on and fields of crops to ensure the dead never went hungry. The Field of Reeds from the Book of the Dead of Ani

  10. How was the Book of the Dead made? Scribes and painters wrote out and illustrated the Book of the Dead papyrus rolls. Sometimes most of the roll was already written and the tomb owner just had their own name and picture added in. Statue of the scribe Pesshuper

  11. Who looks at the Book of the Dead today? Today experts study the Book of the Dead and work out what the ancient Egyptians thought happened to a person when they died. Sometimes they discover pieces from the same papyrus roll in different museums. This gives the museums new information. Conservators look after the fragile papyri and join together torn pieces so that they can be stored safely and read. A British Museum conservator preparing a papyrus for display

  12. Have any completeBooks of the Dead survived? The Book of the Dead created for the ancient Egyptian Nesitanebisheru is one of the largest surviving complete scrolls. In the early 1900s it was cut into 96 separate sheets to make it easier to study, store and display. Today it is sometimes known as the Greenfield Papyrus after Edith Mary Greenfield who donated the roll to the British Museum. Judgement scene from the Book of the Dead of Nesitanebisheru

  13. Where can I see the Book of the Dead? Journey through the afterlife: ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead 4 November 2010 – 6 March 2011 Free for school visits and children under 16 This exhibition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students and teachers to follow the ancient Egyptians’ journey from death to the afterlife. Free resources, exclusive openings for school visits, activity sessions and a private view for teachers are all available. To book any of these, email or telephone +44 (0)20 7323 8181. You can also explore the Museum’s collection online at for information about objects, including pictures to download or print.