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Fragments of a Second-Century Documentary Scroll: Multispectral Imaging of a Carbonized Papyrus from Thmouis

Roger Macfarlane

Brigham Young University

Fragments from a carbonized papyrus scroll are kept in a non-descript confectioner’s box at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo. No inventory number is assigned to this papyrus. The scroll is believed to be one of those found by Naville at Tell Timai (ancient Thmouis) in the Nile Delta during 1892/1893 excavations. He described papyri discovered in large numbers there as “quite carbonized, like those from Herculaneum.” A project was begun in 2015 and is underway to conserve and read this scroll through the application of the same multispectral digital photography used on the Herculaneum papyri. The first imaging session at the Museum, in December 2015, has shown that the scroll’s otherwise illegible text can be rendered legible, and the study of this scroll has begun.

The scroll is documentary. Some had conjectured that the scroll might contain a literary text. Kambitsis (1985) had conjectured that the scroll might have fiscal records on it. However, given the technology of the time, it was impossible to read the texts with any precision. Although in 2015 only a sampling of fragments could be extracted from the scroll without causing undue damage, what was taken reveals through the MSI a clear second-century documentary hand, its content pertaining to loans and purchases (χρήματα, πράγματα, ἀγοράζειν, contractual dating etc.). Names of individuals (e.g., Dioskour[ ], Isidoros, Zois in frg. 2499) will contribute to the internexus of names already known from Roman Thmouis. For comparanda, see P.Thmouis 1 and other potentially related papyrological texts.

Fifty-four fragments of the Thmouis scroll are available from the 2015 session. A visit to the Museum planned for October 2016 is expected to yield further opportunities for piecemeal imaging from the same scroll. However, the scroll’s extraordinary fragility will limit further imaging until considerable conservation can be done on the scroll. After I have demonstrated in my paper the nature and scope of this Thmouis scroll, we may pose questions about the search for the funding that will afford full conservation of this carbonized artifact. To that end I propose in my paper and handout to present a full reading of the fragments imaged in December 2015; further materials drawn from an eventual second visit in October may also be brought to bear. 

Session/Panel Title

Culture and Society in Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Egypt (organized by the American Society of Papyrologists)

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