Papyrus fragments from an Egyptian funerary text known as a Book of the Dead have been discovered in the archives of the Queensland Museum in Brisbane, Australia.
"We are incredibly surprised that we had such a significant object in our collection," museum CEO Ian Galloway told Australian press.
The discovery was made recently during a visit to the museum by British Museum Egyptologist John Taylor.
While on a tour of the Australian venue's Egyptian collection ahead of its new exhibit Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb (which opened Thursday), Taylor noticed a familiar name — Amenhotep, a well-known ancient Egyptian head of builders — on a fragile piece of papyrus long ago conserved by Queensland Museum curators.
Ancient Egyptians created burial manuscripts known as books of the dead and filled them with spells they felt would help them in the afterlife, as well as images depicting the deceased making the journey into the afterlife. The books were typically papyrus scrolls and were placed in the coffin or burial chamber of the deceased. The wealthier the deceased, the longer his or her Book of the Dead.
Upon further examination of the collection, he confirmed that the ancient scraps were from The Book of the Dead of Amenhotep, an ancient Egyptian official from approximately 1420 B.C.
Portions of this particular manuscript were discovered in the 19th century, though parts were missing. Some is now held at the British Museum, with other segments at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
"This is not the papyrus of just anybody. This is one of the top officials from Egypt at the peak of ancient Egypt's prosperity," Taylor told reporters in Brisbane.
According to Galloway, a woman donated the fragments in question to the museum almost 100 years ago. Staffers are now trying to track down her descendants.
The fragments will be scanned and Taylor hopes to start piecing the digital images together with the portions in the British Museum's collection.
"After over 100 years we're in a position to reconstruct this really important manuscript, perhaps in its entirety," he said.