Touted as the world’s largest archaeological project, an online search for clues is crowd-sourcing the details of ancient lives in Egypt - from 19th century rubbish dumpsMore on this crowdsourcing project is here and here, along with links to many, many past posts on the Oxyrhynchus papyri. And for more recent posts see here, here, and here and follow those links.
Going through bins has perhaps never proved as productive as it did for Bernard Pyne Grenfell and Arthur Sturridge Hunt more than a century ago. Rooting through a rubbish dump near Oxyrhynchus (the name means “sharp-nosed”), in ancient Egypt, these light-suited, hirsute late-20s archaeologists litter-picked more than 500,000 papyrus fragments, initiating papyrology as a scientific form.
Deciphering these fragile little scraps can be enlightening. “For drunken headache: wear leaves of Alexandrian chamaedaphne strung together,” reads one papyrus cure for ulcers, haemorrhoids or poor eyes.
Juda, who is named as falling off his horse, apparently needed two nurses to turn him over, suffering injuries which sound worse than those afflicted by Sabina, who consigned a woman named Syra to four days in bed after hitting her with a key. Apollonius and Sarapias, more pleasantly, dispatched a thousand roses and 4,000 narcissi to the wedding of a friend’s son.
Brown and torn, the notes are as heavily open to interpretation as Morse Code muffled through a tin can. The Ashmolean Museum holds this avalanche of plays, letters, receipts, wills and government letters from the lives of people living between the 1st and 6th centuries, and a website where readers can match Greek letters to fragments has already attracted registrations from more than 250,000 volunteers who believe they have the definitive answers to these uncertain snapshots of ancient Egypt. Only 1.5 percent of the million-item collection has so far been transcribed and identified.
This current article has some personal information about the discoverers and lots of random details about the contents of the papyri. Plus there's this:
John Darlington, whose own story-driven interest is in the loose fragments of stained glass recovered from the destroyed St Michael’s cathedral in Coventry, will introduce Dr Dirk Obbink, the leader of the translation project, in a special event at the Royal Geographical Society next month.
“We simply couldn’t resist asking Dirk to come and tell his story,” says Darlington, who is part of the World Monuments Fund.
“It directly links people who might be sitting in their living rooms in London, Lima or Lusaka with a small fragment of the past – and then gets them to help.”