Sunday 31 October 2010

Egyptian Journey Through the Afterlife

If Halloween has put you in a mood for the stuff of death, then you might want to book a ticket for a special exhibition called Journey Through The Afterlife: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, which is being put on at the British Museum from 4 November 2010 to 6 March 2011.

Journey Through the Afterlife: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead explores ancient Egyptian beliefs about life after death and is a showcases for the rich textual and visual material from the British Museum’s collection of Book of the Dead papyri. The "Book", used for more than 1,500 years between c. 1600 BC and 100 AD, is not a single text, but a compilation of spells thought to equip the dead with knowledge and power which would guide them safely through the dangers of the hereafter and ultimately ensure eternal life.

The British Museum has one of the most comprehensive collections of Book of the Dead manuscripts on papyrus in the world, and this exhibition will be the first opportunity to see so many examples displayed together. Due to the fragility of the papyri and their sensitivity to light it is extremely rare for any of these manuscripts to ever be displayed so this is a unique opportunity to view them.

The exhibition will include the longest Book of the Dead in the world, the Greenfield Papyrus, which measures 37 metres in length and has never been shown publicly in its entirety before. Also on display will be the famous paintings from the papyri of Ani and Hunefer, together with selected masterpieces on loan from major international collections. These treasures will be exhibited alongside an array of painted coffins, gilded masks, amulets, jewellery, tomb figurines and mummy trappings. State-of-the-art visualisation technology will provide new ways of accessing and understanding this key source in the history of world religions.

The Book of the Dead opens a window onto the complex belief systems of the ancient Egyptians where death and afterlife were a central focus. Though the name may be familiar today, the wealth of magical images and texts is actually much richer than is generally known. Beautifully coloured illustrations graphically show the fields and rivers of the Netherworld, the gods and demons whom the deceased would meet, and the critical "weighing of the heart" ritual - the judgement of which would determine whether the soul was admitted into the afterlife or condemned to destruction at the hands of the monstrous "Devourer". Although the earliest texts appeared on the mummy shrouds of royal families and high officials, papyrus became the texts’ main medium and remained so for more than 1,000 years.

This exhibition is a must for anyone interested in ancient Egypt and in the spells and rites associated with death and preparation for the afterlife.

The British Museum is at Great Russell Street, London WC1B3DG. Adult tickets are £12 and you can also buy family tickets. Advance booking is essential. To buy tickets visit the museum ticket office, call 020 7323 8181 or book online via

The British Museum has also published a book to accompany the exhibition, called Journey Through the Afterlife: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.

1 comment:

Elen Clulow said...

I loved going to the museum when I lived closed but not sure I'll make it for this exhibit. Sounds great though. I've long had an interest in Egyptology and the Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. Thanks