Journey through the afterlife: the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead coming to the British Museum

Never before the Book of the Dead has been the focus of such a major exhibition as the one upcoming at the British Museum in November this year. Rumours of the exhibition started to surface (or at least, reach my ears) ever since the Colloquium on the Book of the Death last year, but was only recently confirmed. ‘Journey through the afterlife: the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead’ will focus on how the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead was thought to guide the deceased safely through the dangers of the underworld, ultimately (hopefully) ensuring eternal life. The Book of the Dead is not a single text, but a compilation of spells – often with illustrations of the underworld – of which the content evolved over time.

‘Journey through the afterlife: the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead’ will feature illustrated manuscripts of the Book of the Dead on papyrus and linen – used by Egyptians from around 1600 BC to the 1st century AD – many from the British Museums own collection, supplemented by loans of important items from other museums worldwide. The exhibition will focus on the most important papyri – many of which cannot be on permanent display for conservation reasons – to tell the story of the journey to the next world and to set in context crucial episodes such as the “weighing of the heart”, by which the dead were judged.

One of the most famous versions of the Book on display in London will be the complete papyrus of Hunefer, one of the most beautifully painted of all and with 37 metres the longest Book of the Dead known.

Egyptological Colloquium 2009 - Random NotesThrough all of these these remarkable objects – also in display will be funerary items such as shabtis, amulets, jewellery, statues and coffins, all used to aid the deceased in attaining the perfect afterlife – the exhibition will explore the full journey from death to the afterlife.

The British Museum promises that through using state-of-the-art visualisation technology and recent research, the exhibition will provide new and interactive ways of understanding the Book of the Dead.

Journey through the afterlife: the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead‘ runs from November 4th, 2010 to the 6th of March 2011 at the Reading Room of the British Museum. The entrance fee is 12, and British Museum members get in – as many times as they want – for free.

If you want to brush up on your Book of the Dead related knowledge in advance of the opening, have a look at what Sean and I learned at the ‘Book of the Dead’ conference that was held at the British Museum last year. My favourite must have been the clear explanation that Britget Leach and Richard Parkinson from the British Museum gave on the use of pigments and ‘serial manufacturing’ on the Papyrus of Ani.