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 W868This piece of a Book of the Dead  is written in hieratic on linen. It belonged to a man called Djed-Her and has spell 149 of the Book of the Dead on it. Spell 149 lists the mounds of the underworld through which a dead person needed to travel to become reborn. The mounds are guarded by strange daemons.

This fragment dates to the Graeco Roman Period and belonged to Djed-Her, son of Ta. Other sections of the papyrus are known in London and New York (information kindly given by the Totenbuch-Projekt; note 1). This piece includes parts of chapters 148 and 149 of the Book of the Dead. The vignettes are those of Book of the Dead 149 which show the first five mounds of the Underworld. They are similar to those on other versions of Spell 149 and, like them, the relationship between the illustrations and the written descriptions of each of the mounds is not clear. Indeed, the demons themselves are not really described in Spell 149 text.

The writing of Book of the Dead spells on mummy bandages was presumably to ensure the protection of the dead body. The practice seems to begin in the 30th Dynasty (c.350 BC).

This piece was part of the collection of Sir Henry Wellcome, a Victorian collector, though we are unsure as to where he got it from. As stated above, it is part of an originally larger piece, now fragemnted. The reason why so many pieces from one mummy are found in separate collections is because mummy bandages were frequently cut up to be sold in separate pieces to tourists and collectors.

The placing of Spell 149 after 148 is known from other Ptolemaic Theban Papyri (http://totenbuch.awk.nrw.de/spruch/149; Lucarelli 2015, 276), ), so presumably our fragment is also Theban.

The idea of mounds in the underworld appears in the coffin texts, though the idea of 14 mounds begins in the New Kingdom, in the Book of the Dead. By the Graeco Roman Period, mound demons are echoed in the decans (von Lieven 2000, 16-17, 27-28, 46-50).

The illustration on the right shows a figure holding two sticks or wands. To his right appear to be four mummiform illustrations of the Four Sons of Horus. In common with other descriptions of mound one (Milde 1991, 115) of Spell 149 a ‘house’ hieroglyph is included. In some papyri, Spell 149 is entitled ‘Spells for knowing the mounds of the house of Osiris in the Field of Rushes’ (Lucarelli 2006b, 61, 173). It is therefore apt that the first mound shows the Four Sons of Horus present in the scene. The Four Sons of Horus were associated with the night vigil of Osiris. Moreover, Spell 148, in other papyri ends with the adoration of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris (Lucarelli 2015, 276).

The second mound is illustrated in the vignette to the left of this. It shows the hieroglyph for the mountain, as do other versions of spell 149 (Milde 1991, 115). There is also a figure with an ape or jackal head, a tail and animal legs. The figure is again holding two sticks or wands. The descriptions of the second mound talk of the gateway through which Re goes forth and the sign of the mountain may represent the horizon gateway to the otherworld. 

The third mound has the same figure but this time, standing over a representation of the mound (shown as a horseshoe shape). Again the representation of the mound is as on other Book of the Dead versions. In some the title ‘Mound of the Mighty Ones’ is written inside the Mound (e.g. in the Book of the Dead of Neferrenpet, Milde 1991, 116).

In common with other versions, the fourth mound includes the carrying of a snake. Elsewhere the snake is mutilated and it is assumed that the carrying represents the capture of the snake. In our Book of the Dead the snake is held aloft by three men.  In the other versions of the Book of the Dead the snake of the Fourth Mound is described in text as being called ‘Shooter of (two) Knives’. It lives by decapitating spirits of the dead. 

The fifth mound is only partially illustrated here. It shows a mummiform figure with a double snake-head holding two sticks or wands and a lion seated alongside. 

The daemons accompanying each mound are characteristic of later copies of Chapter 149 (Milde 1991, 121). They may represent the gate-keepers who were responsible for protecting each ‘gate’ in the afterlife. Earlier copies of Chapter 149  seem to show the gate-keepers brandishing knives e.g. 18th Dynasty British Museum EA 10477/28, 29 and 30 (Andrews 1972, 140-141). Here, as on other later papyri, the gate-keepers appear to have sticks or wands.

An unedited undergraduate student project on W868


References and further reading 

Andrews, C. 1972. The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. London: British Museum Press. 

von Lieven, A. 2000. Der Himmel über Esna: Eine Fallstudie zur religiösen Astronomie in Ägypten am Biespiel der kosmologischen Decken- und Archatravinschriften im Tempel von Esna. Ägyptologische Abhandlungen 64. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Lucarelli, R. 2006. Demons in the Book of the Dead in Backes. In B., Munro, I. and Stöhr, S. Totenbuch-Forschungen: Gesammelte Beitrage Des 2. International Totenbuch Symposiums Bonn, 25. Bis 29. September 2005 (Studien Zum Altaegyptischen Totenbuch). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2003-212. 

Lucarelli, R. 2006b. The Book of the Dead of Gatseshen. Ancient Egyptian Funerary Religion in the 10th Century BC. Leiden: Netherlands Instituut Voor Het Nabije Oosten.

Lucarelli, R. 2015. The Inhabitants of the Fourteenth Hill of Spell 149 of the Book of the Dead. In Morenz, L.D. and el Hawary, A. Weitergabe: Festschrift für Ägyptologin Ursula Rößler-Köhler zum 65. Geburtstag. (Gottinger Orientforschungen, IV. Reihe: Agypten). Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 275-291. 

Milde, H. 1991. The Vignettes In The Book of The Dead of Neferrenpet. Leiden: Nederlands Instituut Voor Het Nabije Oosten. 

Robinson, P. 2007. Book of the Dead Chapters 149 and 150. In K Griffin (ed.) Current Research in Egyptology: Proceedings of the Eighth Annual Symposium.  Oxford: Oxbow,121-140.


1. [1] http://totenbuch.awk.nrw.de/objekt/tm114180: British Museum EA 10028 and 10047 (10-11);
British Museum EA10065; British Museum EA10271; British Museum EA10349, British
Museum EA75047; M.Cambridge E.Misc 36 and M; New York Historical Society’s

Other Book of the Dead items in the Egypt Centre