The mummies return: Old mummies and Book of the Dead rise again in Liverpool

By Culture24 Reporter | 17 March 2015

Book of Dead damaged by incendiary bomb during Blitz to return in scroll from 21st Dynasty of 1,000 years ago

A close-up photo of a brown and yellow head of a mummy resting on a table in darkness
Visitors to Liverpool can look forward to meeting double the number of mummies at the World Museum© National Museums Liverpool
A dozen mummies will take over a “Mummy Room” in a gallery space which has been closed to visitors for 35 years in Liverpool, appearing alongside 4,000 “incredible” objects which are set to recapture the old grandeur of the World Museum’s extensive Ancient Egypt display.

A spell-laden four-metre long papyrus roll Book of the Dead from a tomb, saved when the museum was hit by an incendiary bomb which destroyed more than 3,000 objects during the May Blitz in the Second World War, will return with an Egyptian collection known as the largest after the British Museum until the end of the Victorian era.

Only two mummies out of the 23 in storage were displayed when a modest dedicated gallery opened in 1976, with a further four brought back in 2008.


The Book of the Dead

An image of an ancient egyptian scroll showing figures of the dead, black ink and more
© National Museums Liverpool
The Book of the Dead of Amenkhau survives as two sheets of hieratic text and a more decorative sheet with hieroglyphs, a vignette that depicts the owner before the falcon-headed deity Ra-Horakhty seated on a throne.
 
Amenkhau – meaning “Amun has appeared” – was a name known at the end of the New Kingdom and the early Third Intermediate Period, between 1200–750 BC.
 
The style of this Book of the Dead suggests it is from the 21st Dynasty, between about 1069 and 945 BC.

Amenkhau is raising his hands in adoration before the god, wearing a very fine pleated linen robe, indicating his wealth, and a broad collar made from beads. Between them, a table is piled high with food offerings above two lettuce plants.
 
The papyrus was damaged by the wartime attack and requires conservation treatment before it can be displayed, having been evacuated from the museum in 1941 and misplaced beneath other papyrus until it was found by a curator in 2013.

The last time the museum found a Book of the Dead was in 1974, when a four-metre unopened papyrus roll was relocated in amongst objects evacuated from the city centre in 1941.
 
Papyrus is made from the pith of the papyrus plant. The plant was used to make a variety of objects such as boats, mats, baskets and sandals, but its use as a writing material was of a huge advance in the history of communication.  
 
The papyrus was unrolled and mounted on fabric by the notorious forger of Biblical texts, Constantine Simonides, in 1860 and 1861.

It was donated to the museum in 1867 by the renowned Victorian collector of antiquities, Joseph Mayer, who acquired most of his papyrus from the mid-19th century visits of Joseph Sams and the Reverend Henry Stobart to Egypt.

The expansion is being paid for by a £300,000 DCMS/Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund award.

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More from Culture24's coverage of Ancient Egypt:

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