Object: Inscribed Papyrus Fragment

Fragment of inscribed papyrus
Ca. 100 BCE
Material: papyrus and ink

Papyrus is an early form of paper, highly valued in the ancient world and most commonly produced in Egypt’s Nile Delta. The paper is made from the inner material of the stem of the papyrus plant (Cyperus papyrus). This inner material, called pith, is removed from the stem and layered on top of itself with the grain of each layer running at right angles to the layer underneath. Once the layers of papyrus reach the desired thickness they are very tightly compressed and allowed to dry.

The inscription on this piece was recently examined by Dr. Janet H. Johnson, a professor of Egyptology at the Oriental Institute, who concluded that it is written in Demotic. Demotic is a type of ancient Egyptian writing that was derived from northern forms of Hieratic, which is often considered the “cursive” or “short-hand” form of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. This type of writing was used during the later part of the Dynastic period in ancient Egypt and continued to be used into the Roman Period. The most famous use of Demotic can be found on the Rosetta Stone.

Dr. Janet H. Johnson was able to provide some information as to the content of this inscription. She reports that: “It seems to be a letter dated year 11, first month of summer (no king’s name was included). The name of the sender is lost in the break at the upper right; the name of the recipient seems to be a foreign name. It mentions the town/location of Meidum, in the Fayum…It also seems to mention ‘matters of Pharaoh,’ which probably would be a reference to state business.”

For more information on ancient paper making see:
Johnson, Malcom. The Nature and Making of Papyrus. Barkston Ash: Elemete Press, 1973. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]


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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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