Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Recovering more Elephantine papyri

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: X-RAYS REVEAL THE SECRETS OF EGYPTIAN SCROLLS (MEGAN GANNON, Newsweek). This article is mostly about trying to recover text from hitherto unreadable Elephantine papyri in the Archaeological Center in Berlin. I didn't know that there were so many of these. The carbonized Heculaneum scrolls also get a mention, as does the Ein Gedi carbonized Leviticus scroll. Worth reading in full, but here's an excerpt:
The hundreds of documents that have turned up at Elephantine include 10 different languages and range four continuous millennia, from Egypt’s Old Kingdom around 2500 B.C. to the Middle Ages. “I’m not aware of any other place in the world where you have 4,000 years covered by textural resources from one single place,” [Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection curator Verena] Lepper says. And yet most of the texts from the island haven’t been studied or published—and many haven’t even been unfurled because they're so delicate.


Still, the scrolls archaeologists find aren’t always in great shape. Some from Elephantine are still intricately folded with layers that might be brittle or stuck together—scholars of the past would pry them open anyway, at risk of destroying the fragile documents. But thanks to advanced imaging technology—and a $1.6 million grant from the European Research Council—Lepper will be able to read papyrus scrolls from the island that have never been unrolled. Over the next five years, she’ll be working with physicists and mathematicians to extract hidden words, letter by letter, with high-energy beams.
Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.