A photo of a fragment of the Book of the Dead, courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum.
The ROM is kicking off Egypt Month on Saturday, February 28 with a new attraction: the Book of the Dead (and no, it’s not the Necronomicon from the Evil Dead series—that demonic text was Sumerian). The seven metre–long scroll, which is part of the ROM’s Out of the Vault Series, has recently been restored to its full beauty. Written in 320 BC for a wealthy Ptolemaic Egyptian named Amen-em-hat, the text of the scroll contains numerous spells, hymns, and instructions to help guide the deceased through the underworld. The scroll also depicts Amen-em-hat fishing, farming, and standing in judgement before the Egyptian gods.
In Ptolemaic Egypt, the scroll was usually written on papyrus and placed in the tomb or coffin of the dead. It was believed that the various hymns and spells would grant the dead magical powers, protection against fire and water, new body parts, and a voice with which to speak. All of these abilities were thought to be necessary to reach the Hall of Judgement, where the heart of the deceased would be weighed on a scale against a feather, the symbol of Maat, goddess of truth and justice. If the deceased led an honest life, the scale would balance and they would be granted eternal life; if not, a monster would eat their heart.
The ROM first obtained the scroll in the early twentieth century when it was acquired by Charles Trick Currelly, the ROM’s first director. Although a small scrap of the scroll has been on display in the Egyptian gallery for years, the rest of the scroll, which had been sitting in storage, was only recently rediscovered and restored. In addition to the book, Egyptian history fanatics, people obsessed with death and the afterlife, and even regular museum goers will also be able to enjoy amulets designed to protect the dead, coffins, and even a mummified child. The Book of the Dead and the rest of the artifacts will be on display from February 10 to May 10, and every weekend in March families will be able to partake in special Egyptian themed activities and archeological digs.