Ancient Egyptian coffin contains ‘oldest map of the underworld’ inscribed 4,000 years ago
EGYPT Archaeologists have unearthed a 4,000-year-old “book” inside a sarcophagus that may be the oldest of its kind, offering an intriguing insight into the minds of ancient civilizations.
In a major breakthrough, the Egyptian government announced the discovery of 59 ancient coffins in the large burial ground of Saqqara, south of Cairo.
Opening one of the ornately decorated sarcophagi, the team uncovered mummified remains wrapped in a burial cloth that bore brightly coloured hieroglyphic inscriptions.
And scores more may still lie buried there, Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani said at the site which is near the 4,700-year-old pyramid of Djoser.
They provide a unique insight into the ancient civilisation, who were obsessed with the afterlife.
Egyptian religious doctrines included three ideologies on what happened after death – the belief in an underworld, eternal life, and rebirth of the soul.
The underworld, also known as the Duat, had only one entrance that could be reached by travelling through the tomb of the deceased.
And an incredible find exposes this mystical road map.
The ‘Book of Two Ways,’ a precursor to the Egyptian funerary texts known as the ‘Book of the Dead,’ depicted two paths by which the soul could navigate the spiritual obstacle to reach the realm of Osiris, the god of death.
And archaeologists unearthed a 4,000-year-old-copy of this text, making it possibly the oldest version ever found.
The find, described in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, traces this belief back further than previously thought.
Rita Lucarelli, an Egyptology curator at the University of California, said in 2019: “The ancient Egyptians were obsessed with life in all its forms.
“Death for them was a new life.”
The discovery of the oldest known copy unseats the previous record-holder by about 40 years.
Found during excavations of a burial shaft in the Egyptian village of Dayr al-Barsha, the text was found in a coffin that had largely escaped the attention of both grave robbers and archaeologists.
Unlike the bound books of modern times, the ancient text was scrawled across the inside of the sarcophagus itself.
Experts said the inscriptions clearly quote the ‘Book of Two Ways’, and other artefacts in the grave have been dated to the reign of Pharaoh Mentuhotep II, who ruled until 2010BC.
Study author Dr Harco Willems, an Egyptologist at the University of Leuven in Belgium, said the “coffin texts” were meant to “situate the deceased in the world of the gods”.