Sunday, August 25, 2019

Virtual unfolding of Elephantine papyri

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Physicists discover hidden text in what was thought to be blank Egyptian papyri. It's the latest example of how cutting-edge physics techniques can unlock the past (Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica).
A team of German scientists has used a combination of cutting-edge physics techniques to virtually "unfold" an ancient Egyptian papyrus, part of an extensive collection housed in the Berlin Egyptian Museum. Their analysis revealed that a seemingly blank patch on the papyrus actually contained characters written in what had become "invisible ink" after centuries of exposure to light.

Most of the papyri in the collection were excavated around 1906 by an archaeologist named Otto Rubensohn, on Elephantine Island, near the city of Aswan. They've been gathering dust in storage for much of the ensuing decades, and because they are so fragile, more than 80% of the text within remains undeciphered. ...
The only fully recovered word is the Coptic word for "Lord." But as the process is perfected, it may help to recover a lot of other ancient text more fully.

Given that these papyri are in Coptic, they must be much later than the fifth-century BCE Judean (etc.?) Aramaic papyri from Elephantine. I don't know whether any such Aramaic texts might be included among those undeciphered texts mentioned in the quote. I hope so.

As I like to say:

Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

Non-invasive and non-destructive technologies are the way of the future for archaeology.

The Singularity is Near.

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