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UC Berkeley Press Release

Summer workshop exploring neglected papyrus texts

– A dozen students from around the world convened today (Monday, June 14) at the University of California, Berkeley's Center for the Tebtunis Papyri to learn new skills and take a concentrated look at some of the center's neglected Egyptian papyrus texts dating back to the third century B.C.

"There's no way to say for sure exactly what they will find, but I think we'll have some exciting discoveries," said Todd Hickey, papyrologist and curator of the center that houses the largest papyri collection in the United States.

"What's exciting is the fact that they're really going into unknown territory. Nobody's done anything with this material from this part of the collection before," said Hickey, who in 2001 became UC Berkeley's first papyrologist in nearly 30 years.

Donald Mastronarde, director of the Tebtunis center and professor of classics at UC Berkeley, said that because so much of the collection has not been properly studied, "The students will have the excitement of discovery no matter what particular documents they happen to receive or select for decipherment and analysis."

The papyri were excavated along with more than 2,000 artifacts in the winter of 1899 and 1900 during a University of California expedition to the ruined town, temple and cemeteries of Tebtunis, Egypt, southwest of modern Cairo. Phoebe Apperson Hearst financed the excavation.

More than 40,000 text fragments were found in homes, wrapped around or stuffed inside crocodile mummies, and in the masks, chest coverings and foot cases of human mummies. The last group will be the center of attention for the students coming from such fields as classics, ancient religion, literature, Mediterranean archaeology and Egyptology.

The texts are written in Greek and demotic Egyptian on papyrus - the ancient equivalent of paper, made from the fibers of papyrus plants native to Egypt. They include letters, handbooks on medicine, property records and tax receipts as well as fragments of copies of Homer's "Iliad" and unique fragments of the once-lost play, "Inachus," by Sophocles.

The seminar will put students studying Greek papyri side by side with those studying demotic Egyptian papyri in a type of interaction that "has been all too rare in the past," said Mastronarde.

The six-week seminar at UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library is funded by the campus and takes place under the auspices of the American Society of Papyrologists as part of a plan to hold summer programs in papyrology at each of nine participating universities in the United States and one in Canada. The first program took place last year at Yale University.

Each session has a special focus, and the students at UC Berkeley will examine classical and demotic Egyptian texts at the Tebtunis Center. Students at Yale explored Greek and Latin texts.

Experts in the language, economics and administration during the Ptolemaic period also will present lectures. Others will discuss conservation and preservation issues for papyri, as well as magic texts detailing charms and spells contained in papyri and Greek literary texts discovered in mummies.

The goal is to give students the opportunity to work first-hand with papyrological materials and provide specialized training in the discipline, Hickey said.

"By the end, they will be able to edit papyri in one of the languages, if not both," he said. "And they will be able to apply what they learn here in their graduate work and their careers."
For more information about the Center for the Tebtunis Papyri, see http://tebtunis.berkeley.edu/index.html. Online exhibits can be viewed at http://tebtunis.berkeley.edu/exhibits.html.