Ancient Egyptian papyri

The website for the Australian Research Council Discovery Project: Ancient Egyptian papyri: unlocking secrets to the history of writing

Ancient Egyptian papyri: unlocking secrets to the history of writing.

This project aims to investigate the chemical composition of papyri from ancient Egypt and their inks to identify scribes, date texts, detect forgeries, match fragmentary texts, and illuminate environmental and technological change. Papyrus and carbon-based ink were the primary writing materials in the ancient Mediterranean world from 2600 BCE to 1000 CE, but the uncertain provenance and date caused by clandestine excavation and the antiquities trade limits our understanding of them. The non-destructive and inexpensive analysis will provide new understanding of environmental, technological, and socio-cultural change in ancient cultures from Egypt to Rome by providing new insights into writing technology, scribal identity, dating, and authenticity.

Working on papyri drawn from the Macquarie University Museum of Ancient Cultures, the University of Heidelberg papyrus collection, the Australian Institute for Archaeology in Melbourne, and the World Museum Liverpool, this project will use X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry and Raman spectrometry to examine a wide range of papyri in different languages and scripts (Greek, Demotic and Coptic Egyptian), from a range of find spots throughout Egypt, as well as replicas and known and suspected modern forgeries, to ask questions about scribal identity, provenience, dating, and authenticity.

The project is supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery project grant from 2019–2021, and is a collaboration between the Departments of Ancient History and Environmental Sciences at Macquarie University and the Institute for Papyrology at the University of Heidelberg.

Project Team