June 17, 2010 / 2:03 PM / 10 years ago

Ancient Egypt guide to afterlife centre of UK show

LONDON, June 17 (Reuters Life!) - Papyri from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, a series of spells designed to help guide the dead through the afterlife, will be at the centre of a new show at the British Museum this November.

The star item is likely to be the Greenfield Papyrus, which the London museum called the world’s longest Book of the Dead at 37 metres (yards). It has never been shown publicly in its entirety before.

“Journey through the afterlife: ancient Egypt Book of the Dead”, sponsored by BP, will run from November 4 to March 6, 2011 in the museum’s central Reading Room, used for a series of successful “blockbuster” exhibitions in recent years.

The “book”, which is not a single text but a compilation of spells, was used between around 1600 BC and 100 AD and explains much about ancient Egypt’s complex belief systems where death and the 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,” the museum said.

“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.”

According to their beliefs, that judgment would determine whether the soul was admitted into the afterlife or condemned to destruction at the hands of the monstrous “Devourer”.

The museum will draw on what it called its “unparalleled” Book of the Dead papyri and also display works on loan from other major collections.

Also on show will be painted coffins, gilded masks, jewellery, tomb figurines and mummy trappings.

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