The Qenna papyrus

Tales for the next world

The ‘book of the dead’ from tradesman Qenna is an Egyptian roll of papyrus more than seventeen metres long and three thousand years old. It’s full of magical stories, possibly spells, and images of gods and symbols. In the ‘Qenna Papyrus’ exhibition, the colourful manuscript is displayed in one long piece. This is the first time it is on display since it was acquired in 1835. It is also the longest papyrus in the museum’s collection and considerable work was done to restore it over the past three years.

On one side, the exhibition tells about the stories in the book itself, and on the other, the restoration process which took about 4 years under the guidance of the museum is explained. Originally the book of the dead was one long piece, but was divided into 38 sheets during an earlier restoration process. The layers of glue from earlier restorations have been carefully removed and the book of the dead is once again preserved under glass. These sheets have been extensively investigated which has brought new information to light about the manner in which the book of the dead was made.



Term: 23 june – 04 september
Year: 2022
Location: Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden

Photography: Mike Bink

An 18 metre-long travel guide

This book was placed in the sarcophagus with Qenna and was supposed to help him safely onwards on his journey. We investigate the stories and spells more thoroughly in the descriptive layer below the papyrus.

Vivid tales and aphorisms

Six important tales from the book of the dead are elucidated in lively animations. By highlighting and clarifying elements from the various tales separately, it becomes clear what the story is about and how it is supposed to help Qenna safely reach the kingdom of the dead. In this way we see how his heart is weighed, in order to establish if he lived an honest life.