Inscription Found On Egyptian Coffin Provides A Detailed Map Of The Underworld


An Egyptian coffin that was discovered in an ancient burial chamber several years ago turns out to have been more than just an incredible archaeological find, according to Ancient Origins, which reports that the same coffin also contained the oldest known map of the underworld in existence:

“A new study published in The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology by Harco Willems suggests this ancient text is the earliest known copy of The Book of Two Ways, dating back at least 4,000 years. This dating has been associated with the tomb because it contains inscriptions mentioning Djehutinakht I from around the 21st to 20th century BC. However, it was previously incorrectly believed that the coffin must therefore contain the body of Djehutinakht I, but this latest study suggests the coffin was inhabited by the body of an elite female called Ankh.”

A wooden panel from the coffin is engraved with the oldest Book of Two Ways (Via Harco Willems/ SAGE Journals)

Though they’ve been searching diligently for decades, archaeologists have previously only found a few versions of the ancient Book of Two Ways, so this new find on the wooden coffin panel is a very big deal.

 

The Book of Two Ways

 

What exactly is The Book of Two Ways? The title refers to the two routes a soul can take in navigating the afterlife in the Egyptian underworld if it wants to enter the realm of Osiris. Osiris was the Egyptian overlord of the underworld and final judge of all human souls. The Book of Two Ways is also part of a much larger body of ancient Egyptian mythology — The Coffin Texts — and it is referred to as “a clear precursor to later Netherworld books such as the ‘Amduat and the ‘Book of Gates.'”

 

The layout and landscape of The Book of Two Ways: coffin of Sepi (Via Academia.edu)
Book of the Dead

 

All of these books are part of a much more well-known tome known as The Book of the Dead, which has been described by National Geographic as the full collection of mortuary texts which consists of spells that deal with the afterlife. More precisely, the Book of the Dead contains “1,185 spells and incantations” which are what can best be dubbed everything a person needed to successfully find his or her way in the next life.

 

Map of the netherworld from the coffin of Gua, from Deir el-Bersha, Egypt. 12th Dynasty, 1985-1795 BC (Via Wikipedia)
Getting to Osiris

 

The Book of Two Ways goes into great detail about how one could manage to find the elusive Osiris in the underworld:

“Two zig-zagging paths crossing a dangerous landscape where demonic entities challenge ones progression to ‘Rostau’ – the realm of Osiris – a dark place surrounded with fire and located at the ‘boundary of the sky.’ It was believed that any person who looked upon the dead body of Osiris would never completely die and if one reached the Field of Offerings, after a feast with Osiris their desires would be satisfied.

Problem is, the paths can be treacherous, and some lead nowhere, leaving a soul searching for respite frustrated and no closer to final rest than before.

The paths are also separated by the Lake of Fire, which has the power to either destroy or revive the soul. Along the way, the deceased traveler also must “overcome the Sun’s ‘fiery court’ with endless guardians and demons blocking the way with high walls of stone and fire.”

Clearly, the Egyptian underworld was no place for the fainthearted.

Related: The ‘Osiris device’, the Bark of Horus, and connections to the Ark of the Covenant

 

Outer coffin of Taywheryt depicting Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys (Via CESRAS for Flickr)
Soul Map

 

In a sense, the Book of Two Ways is a map for the soul. But while it may well look to us here in the 21st century like a map, it wasn’t used as one in the conventional sense of that word.

Instead, the ancient Egyptians wanted to provide what can best be called a “psychological map of the soul.”  As Ancient Origins notes:

“At the time of its creation, about 4,000 years ago, nobody had yet attempted to map the netherworld and scholars maintain the later texts all divide the afterlife into hours or caves and include landmarks and events.”

In a way The Book of Two Ways was meant as a form of solace and guidance for those who might be facing death. Reading it, they could have a fuller understanding of what awaited them after they had passed from this world to the next. Whether it was accurate or not isn’t of particular importance. Like any story we tell ourselves about what happens after we shuffle off this mortal coil, our ideas of an afterlife are mainly meant to ease our transition from this realm to whatever may await. As such, The Book of Two Ways is in keeping with other texts that have existed for centuries.

 

For more on The Book of the Dead, watch this video:

 


Featured Image Via Pixabay

 

 


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Harrison Kirk