Revealed: Here’s the Oldest Known Map of the Ancient Egyptian Underworld

The Book of Two Ways’, is a kind of ancient Egyptian guide of the underworld. This 'map for the soul' has been deemed the oldest ever found.

The map is illustrated in the form of engravings that were discovered inside a 4,000-year-old sarcophagus. The “map of the underworld” illustrates the path that the souls of the dead must make in order to reach eternal life.

The map was revealed in a new study published in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology by Harco Willems. The study suggests that the ancient illustrations are in fact the oldest copy of The Book of Two Ways.

The Book of Two Ways was conceived as a kind of guide that helped the deceased overcome the dangers of the underworld. It is meant to show how the deceased could get past the lake of fire, past demons armed with knives in order to reach the kingdom of Osiris.

The map to the underworld was discovered etched on an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus. The sarcophagus was discovered in 2012, but experts were unable to date it until now, discovering it dates back around 4,000 years.

‘The Book of Two Ways’ refers to two paths that zig-zag a hazardous journey through barriers and demonic entities towards ‘Rostau’ and the abode of the ancient Egyptian god Osiris.

In ancient Egypt, it was maintained that anyone who laid on the body of Osiris would attain immortality. Experts have recently discovered that the engravings on the side of the sarcophagus are the oldest known examples to have ever been discovered.

The Book of the Two Ways. Image Credit: Harco Willems.
The Book of the Two Ways. Image Credit: Harco Willems.

The ancient sarcophagus was discovered inside a tomb at the ancient Egyptian necropolis of Dayr al-Barsha. Experts. the “map” was discovered on two wooden panels which were inscribed with a mixture of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and symbols.

The map itself illustrates two lines that represent the two routs the deceased can use in order to reach Osiris in the afterlife. In addition to the map, the ancient engravings feature a number of spells the deceased could use to ward off demons along the journey.

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“In many ways, the Book of Two Ways can be described as the first illustrated book in history,” Ancient Egypt expert Dr. Foy Scalf, of the University of Chicago, said in an interview with The Times. “It offers the first illustrated guide to sacred geography.”

Although several examples of the “Book of the Two Ways” have been found before, this one is the oldest example ever found, 500 years older than any other found. These engravings were usually reserved for high-ranking officials of ancient Egypt. The “Book of the Two Ways” is actually part of the Coffin Texts, a collection of more than 1,000 spells and wirings meant to help the deceased in the afterlife.

Details about the “Book of the Two Ways” are scarce. Archeologists and scholars have still not been able to explain when it was written and by whom. Nonetheless, scientists hope to come across similar examples in the future. Details of the discovery have been published in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology and are available here.