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A sizable number of the surviving Egyptian 'Books of the Dead' were part of a one-off exhibition at the the British Museum in London, England, between November 4, 2010 to March 6, 2011 charging £12 for adult admissions. Many examples had never been seen before, drawn from the British Museumís unparalleled collection, with the oldest examples over 3,500 years old.


A panoramic exterior view of the British Musem in London, England

This page is illustrated using photos taken within the exhibition itself. Taking photos was prohibited, especially with a flash which could cause damage to the fragile subject material over time, so a camera-phone was quietly used meaning the quality isn't brilliant, but will hopefully give you a glimpse of what is on display.









"Legend has it, that is was written by the dark ones. Necronomicon Ex Mortes, roughly translated, Book' of the Dead. The Book served as a passageway to the evil worlds beyond. It was written long ago, when the seas ran red with blood. It was this blood that was used to ink the book. In the year 1300 AD, the Book disappeared!"









Sam Raimi covered the Egyptian 'Book of the Dead' in ancient history class at Michigan State University in Ypsilanti, and H.P. Lovecraft in his creative writing class. These both gave him some ideas, but over the course of The Evil Dead's creation, the original idea of the Egyptian 'Book of the Dead' was replaced by references to Sumerian religion. Like other writers, Sam later borrowed the term 'Necronomicon' from author H.P Lovecraft.

The shooting script for The Evil Dead elaborates on the book's origins a little more than the film itself. Excavated from the ruins of Ca'n Dar, the 'Book of the Dead' was one of six volumes of ancient Sumerian burial practices and rites entitled "Naturan Demanto" roughly translated 'Book of the Dead'. It was bound in human flesh, and inked with blood. The other volumes still lost, this particular volume deals with demons and demon resurrection. These are of the Katardi family, meaning those forces believed to inhabit the jungles and woods of man's domain. As legend has it, only the sacred high priests of the Ca'n Dar tribe could possess these books, for they alone could properly control the resurrected demons. It is only through the act of reciting the resurrection passage that these demons could be raised, and given licence to possess the living.

In reality the 'Book of the Dead' had nothing to do with raising the dead, demon posession, or the Sumarians for that matter. It's the modern name for ancient Egyptian funerary texts, used from the beginning of the Egyptian New Kingdom, from around 1550BC up to around 50BC.




The text consists of a number of magic spells intended to assist a dead person journey through the underworld, and into the afterlife. The 'Book' was part of a tradition which included the earlier Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts. Some of the spells included were drawn from these older works and date to the 3rd millenium BC. Other spells were composed later in Egyptian history, dating to the Third Intermediate Period (11th to 7th centuries BC). Some rulers seem to have commissioned their own copies of the 'Book', perhaps choosing the spells they thought most vital in their own progression to the afterlife. Each respective 'Book' was placed in the coffin or burial chamber of the deceased. A number of the spells which made up the 'Book' were also inscribed on tomb walls and sarcophagi.

The surviving 'Books' & fragments contain a varying selection of religious and magical texts and vary considerably in their illustration. Each 'Book' made is up of a number of individual texts commonly written in hieroglyphic or hieratic script on a papyrus scroll, and often illustrated with vignettes depicting the deceased and their journey into the afterlife. A 'Book' papyrus was produced to order by scribes, and most owners of the 'Book of the Dead' were part of the social elite. They were initially reserved for the royal family, but later papyri are found in the tombs of scribes, priests and officials. Most owners were men, but that balance shifted through time.

Some were commissioned by people in preparation for their own funeral, or by the relatives of someone recently deceased. They were expensive items; perhaps half the annual pay of a labourer. Papyrus itself was evidently costly, as there are many instances of its re-use in everyday documents.


At present, some 192 spells are known, though no single manuscript contains them all. They served a range of purposes. Some are intended to give the deceased mystical knowledge in the afterlife, or perhaps to identify them with the gods, while others are incantations to ensure the different elements of the dead person's being were preserved and reunited, and to give the deceased control over the world around him. Still others protect the deceased from various hostile forces, or guide him through the underworld past various obstacles.

Almost every 'Book' was bespoke & unique, containing a different mixture of spells. For most of their history, there was little defined order or structure until the Saite period (26th dynasty) onwards.

There was no single bound 'Book of the Dead' as is shown on the films, or indeed as we would know a Book in it's modern sense, in reality there were lots of different versions over time and each one written on a long papyrus or leather scroll made up of smaller sheets joined together, The dimensions of a 'Book' could vary widely; the longest is 40 metres long while some are as short as 1 metre, with individual papyri varying in width from 15cm to 45cm. The scribes working on 'Book' papyri took more care over their work than those working on more mundane texts; care was taken to frame the text within margins, and to avoid writing on the joints between sheets. The text of a 'Book ' was written in both black and red ink. Most of the text was in black, with red used for the titles of spells, opening and closing sections of spells, the instructions to perform spells correctly in rituals, and also for the names of dangerous creatures.

The black ink used was based on carbon, and the red ink on ochre, in both cases mixed with water. The style and nature of the vignettes used to illustrate a 'Book of the Dead' varies widely. Some contain lavish colour illustrations, even making use of gold leaf. Others contain only line drawings, or one simple illustration at the opening.

 
 
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