April 20, 2012 - 5:21PM
The Queensland Museum has been revealed as an unlikely resting place for the missing pieces of a rare manuscript from ancient Egypt.
Archaeologists had been searching for the missing fragments of the rare Book of the Dead for 100 years when a visiting Egyptologist stumbled across them while in Brisbane to open a mummy exhibition. Fragments from the rest of the papyrus, more than 3000 years old, lie in the British Museum, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The religious parchment is believed to have been buried with a top Egyptian official who lived in 1420 BC. Parts of it were discovered in the late 19th century, but archaeologists have never found it all.
Dr John Taylor from the British Museum identified the fragments while being shown part of the museum's Egyptian collection. He says a name on one of the pieces caught his eye and his suspicions were confirmed when he viewed the rest of the collection of more than 100 manuscript fragments. The discovery was very significant, he said.
"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," he said in Brisbane "After over 100 years we're in a position to reconstruct this really important manuscript, perhaps in its entirety."
Dr Taylor said he was thrilled to make the once-in-a-lifetime discovery.
"It doesn't happy very often, not in this way. You get a really special feeling," he said.
Queensland Museum chief executive Ian Galloway says the manuscript fragments were donated to the Queensland Museum by a woman 100 years ago. The museum is now trying to track down her family.
"We are incredibly surprised that we had such a significant object in our collection," Mr Galloway said.
He paid tribute to the museum's past curators for keeping the fragile fragments in such good condition.
There was no doubt the rare manuscript would boost interest in the Queensland Museum, and potentially the value of its collection, he added. "Our collections are valued every year and perhaps this year our collections will go up a notch," he said.
The fragments will remain in Brisbane and scholars are expected to attempt to piece together the papyrus on a computer, using photographs.