52-foot-long Book of the Dead papyrus from ancient Egypt discovered at Saqqara


Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered a 52-foot-long (16 meters) papyrus containing sections from the Book of the Dead. The more than 2,000-year-old document was found within a coffin in a tomb south of the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara.

There are many texts from The Book of the Dead, and analysis of the new finding may shed light on ancient Egyptian funerary traditions. Conservation work is already complete, and the papyrus is being translated into Arabic, according to a translated statement, which was released in conjunction with an event marking Egyptian Archaeologists Day on Jan. 14.

This is the first full papyrus to be uncovered at Saqqara in more than 100 years, Mostafa Waziry, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said, according to the statement. 

The Step Pyramid of Djoser was constructed during the reign of the pharaoh Djoser (ruled circa 2630 B.C. to 2611 B.C.) and was the first pyramid the Egyptians built. The area around the step pyramid was used for burials for millennia. Indeed, the coffin that housed the newfound papyrus dates to the Late Period (circa 712 B.C. to 332 B.C.), Zahi Hawass, Egypt's former minister of Antiquities, told Live Science in an email. Information about who owned the papyrus and its precise date will be announced soon, Hawass said.

The Book of the Dead is a modern-day name given to a series of texts the Egyptians believed would help the dead navigate the underworld, among other purposes. They were widely used during the New Kingdom (circa 1550 B.C. to 1070 B.C.).