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Group of manuscripts from Deir el-Medina

The following group of papyri from Deir el-Medina, now preserved in the French Institute, Cairo, in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, in the Chester Beatty Library and Gallery, Dublin, and in the British Museum, seem to derive from a single source.

  1. Papyrus Chester Beatty 1, sole copy of the Tale of Horus and Seth, and of a group of love songs (preserved in Dublin)
  2. Papyrus Chester Beatty 2, sole copy of the Tale of Truth and Falsehood (British Museum ESA 10682)
  3. Papyrus Chester Beatty 3, sole copy of a Dream Book, on other side a copy of the Battle of Qadesh (British Museum ESA 10682)
  4. Papyrus Chester Beatty 4, hymns and didactic excerpts (British Museum ESA 10684)
  5. Papyrus Chester Beatty 5, copy of the Hymn to the Nile flood, and didactic excerpts (British Museum ESA 10685)
  6. Papyrus Chester Beatty 6, prescriptions and incantations for good health (British Museum ESA 10686)
  7. Papyrus Chester Beatty 7, incantations for good health (British Museum ESA 10687)
  8. Papyrus Chester Beatty 8, incantations for good health (British Museum ESA 10688)
  9. Papyrus Chester Beatty 9, copy of the Offering Ritual for king Amenhotep I, and on other side incantations for good health (British Museum ESA 10689)
  10. Papyrus Chester Beatty 10, aphrodisiacs (British Museum ESA 10690)
  11. Papyrus Chester Beatty 11, incantations for good health including the Tale of Isis and Ra, and a hymn to Amun (British Museum ESA 10691)
  12. Papyrus Chester Beatty 12, incantations for good health (British Museum ESA 10692)
  13. Papyrus Chester Beatty 13, incantations for good health (British Museum ESA 10693)
  14. Papyrus Chester Beatty 14, incantations for good health (British Museum ESA 10694)
  15. Papyrus Chester Beatty 15, incantations for good health (British Museum ESA 10695)
  16. Papyrus Chester Beatty 16, incantation for purity (British Museum ESA 10696)
  17. Papyrus Chester Beatty 17, excerpts from the 'Satirical Letter' (British Museum ESA 10697)
  18. Papyrus Chester Beatty 18, didactic excerpts and incantations for good health (British Museum ESA 10698)
  19. Papyrus Chester Beatty 19, copy of the Teaching of Khety (British Museum ESA 10699)
  20. Papyrus Ashmolean, Will of Niutnakht (completed by Papyrus IFAO Deir el-Medina 2, part of the Will of Niutnakht)

The papyri in the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology, Cairo expand the contents of the group to include personal letters and accounts documents, including the following:

From the French Institute records, it seems that the bulk of these manuscripts were retrieved in 1928 during the excavations by that institute at Deir el-Medina. However, it is not certain that all items derive from that one find.

The history of the group of papyri has been reconstructed by Gardiner, Posener and Pestman; broadly, it seems that in the late 19th Dynasty (late 13th century BC), literary papyri were collected, and some compositions copied by a man called Qenherkhepshef, Accountant of the Project for the King's Tomb. Over the next century his successors began to add documentary papyri (accounts, legal documents, letters), and to tear rectangular sections from the literary books for reuse as writing material for such documents. The group may have been stored in a tomb-chapel, before being moved to their final resting-place; it has been suggested that they are the books mentioned in the following private letter of the 12th century BC, from Thutmose, another Accountant of the Project for the King's Tomb to his son and assistant Butehamun (after Wente 1990, 191, from papyrus British Museum ESA 10326, lines recto, line 19- verso, line 1):


xr nH.k r mdw r-Dd
tw.i anx.kwi r tA mdw n nA sSw nty wAH tA at r-a rdwy
xr m-di nA sSw i.Hw tA pt r.w m tA at n sS Hr-Sri pAy.i
iw.k in.w r-bnr
iw.n gm.w r-Dd bw pwy ft
iw.i Dd n.k iw.i sfx.w an
iw.k int.w r-Xry
iw.n wAH m tA at maHat imn-nxt pAy.i it
nHt.k r-Dd tw.i anx.kwi


'Now you wished to say,
"I am alive to the matter of the writings which were placed in the staircase chamber".
Well, about the writings that were rained on in the chamber of the scribe Horsheri of my family,
you brought them out,
and we found that they hadn't been washed off -
I told you I would untie them again.
You brought them down below,
and we placed (them) in the chamber of the chapel of Amennakht my forefather.
And you wished to say "I am alive (to it)".'



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