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18th dynasty papyri

Papyrus was the nearest Egyptian equivalent of paper, and was used as a writing material. The earliest papyrus (unused) was found in a first dynasty tomb at Saqqara. The only papyri which survive from the Old Kingdom are some administrative archives and the occasional letter. From the Middle Kingdom onwards we find them used for literary and religious texts as well. For scribbling notes, the Egyptians tended to use ostraka. The largest group of papyri are versions of the Book of the Dead, a guide to what the deceased might expect to have to do and say to reach the next world. These make their earliest appearances near the beginning of the 18th dynasty, and continue right into the Roman period; they are descended from the Pyramid Texts and the Coffin Texts. Book of the Dead papyri also form the vast majority of papyrus finds from tombs.

A vast number of fragments (several hundred) were located in the burial chambers of Senneferi. Papyri being very fragile means that, with no conservator available, little could be done other than to take a couple of representative photos and then box them up as best we could.

papyri in box

These fragments obviously need to be conserved so that they can be properly studied and packed away. This task was started in 1999 by Bridget Leach, and the methods she used can be found in her part of the report on that season. The process was continued into the 2000 season, and in all 16 frames of fragments were put together; a number of others, mostly tiny fragments, remain unconserved. Below are two images of conserved fragments.

papyrus fragments
papyrus fragments

See a Gallery Page of all the fragments.

The papyri have been examined by Dr Irmtraut Munro of the Totenbuch-Projekt of the University of Bonn, who has more experience with the 18th Dynasty Book of the Dead than any other scholar. Her opinion is that there was more than one papyrus, in fact three. These three papyri are distinguished by their different layouts, but all bear the name and titles of Senneferi, and were thus made for him alone, and not for anyone buried with him. This is apparently unattested elsewhere.

Dr Munro has identified the following chapters or spells of the Book of the Dead as being present on the papyri (Tb = German Totenbuch):

Tb 99, Tb 100, Tb 136 A, Tb 77, Tb 86, Tb 87 [V], Tb 1V, Tb 83, Tb 124, Tb 80 [V], Tb 84, Tb 85V, Tb 82 [V], Tb 141/2, Tb 149, Tb 144, Tb 125A, Tb 125 B [V], Tb 125 C

What is really interesting is that we also have a linen shroud with Book of the Dead texts on it. Shrouds disappear about the time of Thutmose III, and so it looks as if Senneferi was in a transitional period when both styles where in use.

A number of the fragments of papyrus of course join together, but it has not been possible physically to rearrange them. However, Dr Munro and her colleagues have rearranged them electronically from photographs. The two examples below show spells 124 and 1 from the first papyrus.

We are very grateful to Dr Munro for her work on these finds.

papyrus fragments

© Nigel Strudwick 1997-2014