4,000-Year-Old Guide to the Ancient Egyptian Underworld May Be Oldest Illustrated ‘Book’
by Katherine J. Wu/Smithsonianmag.com
In ancient Egypt, death wasn’t merciful enough to end one’s troubles. The afterlife was fraught with peril, too, and the dead had to contend with something of a spiritual obstacle course to reach Rostau, the glorious realm of Osiris, god of death.
At least two paths to Rostau existed: one by land, another by sea. Both were arduous enough to require a guidebook, the aptly named Book of Two Ways. This intricate map of the ancient Egyptian underworld may be the first illustrated “book” in history. And archaeologists have now unearthed a 4,000-year-old-copy—possibly the oldest version ever found, reports Franz Lidz for the New York Times.
The find, described in a recent paper in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, nudges the history of ancient literature backward in time, underscoring the dedication and sophistication with which these individuals tackled the enigma of their own mortality.
“The ancient Egyptians were obsessed with life in all its forms,” says Rita Lucarelli, an Egyptology curator at the University of California, Berkeley, in an interview with Lidz. “Death for them was a new life.”