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(R. Bußmann)

Preserving the Book of the Dead of Iahtesnakht

The papyrus collection of the department of Egyptology keeps a remarkable document from the later history of ancient Egypt, papyrus Coloniensis 10207. The papyrus roll originally measured approximately 10 cm in diameter and 25 cm in height. It was unrolled and turned out to be a Book of the Dead, 23,50 m long, written for an Egyptian woman called Iahtesnakht (“The-moon-is-her-strength”). It contains spells and vignettes for the deceased, dating to around 600 BC. The document reflects the growing efforts in this period to canonize the mortuary literature of ancient Egypt. It is a good example of the reorganisation of written knowledge at a time called by the philosopher Kar Jaspers the “axial age”.

The papyrus roll was composed of ca. 95 individual sheets, one glued on the next, and was only inscribed on one side. Originally, the document was written for a male individual. However, when Iahtesnakht died – perhaps when she was still a girl – the text was adopted accordingly, her name was inserted, and images of Iahtesnakht were added to the vignettes, wherever possible. Two wooden coffins, belonging to Iahtesnakht, showed up in a private collection in Brussels. A strip of papyrus in the inner part of the inner coffin, above the head of the mummy, indicates that a papyrus roll was placed here, presumably papyrus Coloniensis 10207.

The Book of the Dead of Iahtesnakht was cut into 32 sheets and, in 1985, was mounted between plexiglass. However, the sheets began to move in the glass frames and ink and coloured pigments were abraded. The papyrus was threatened by mildew. In cooperation with Professor emeritus Dr Robert Fuchs and the conservator Marc Holly from the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne, this project is dedicated to the cleaning and sustainable remounting of the papyrus, using a new technology. Adequate mounting on special paper materials under UV resistant glasses and specifically tailored and padded cases for the stocking and transport will create the required microclimate between the glass frames. The aim is to prepare the papyrus for further research, teaching and public exhibitions. The project "Germany's longest papyrus - preservation of the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead of Iah-tes-nakht in Cologne (Papyrus Coloniensis 10207)" is funded by the Koordinierungsstelle zur Erhaltung des schriftlichen Kulturguts.

Research magazine of the Faculty of Humanities:

High-resolution photos of the papyrus:

Verhoeven, Ursula 1993. Das saitische Totenbuch der Iahtesnacht: P.Colon.Aeg. 10207, 3 volumes, Papyrologische Texte und Abhandlungen, Bonn: Rudolf Habelt.


The project "Germany's longest papyrus - preservation of the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead of Iah-tes-nakht in Cologne