When associate professor of Greek and Roman Studies Max Nelson learned in 1997 that there were ancient Egyptian papyri lost at the University of British Columbia, he was determined to find them.
While doing his thesis at UBC between 1997 and 2001, Dr. Nelson’s supervisor told him that there had once been papyri at the university donated by the University of Michigan, but they had been lost and had never been published.
“In an attempt to track down what these were about I went to the University of Michigan and found copies of letters from the 1930s, in which transcriptions of the papyri had been made,” says Nelson.
In 2003, Dr. Nelson, who joined UWindsor in 2001, presented his discovery at the American Philological Association. The papyri were rediscovered at the UBC library last year and Nelson was invited to work with the discoverer to get them ready for journal publication.
“There are a number of steps that must be taken with such finds,” he says. “One of which was to analyze the papyri palaeographically, that is, we have to decipher the handwriting and try to fill in gaps.”
The lost but found papyri, dating to the time of the Roman occupation of Egypt, are significant because they give a glimpse into everyday Egyptian life. The first papyrus is for an invitation to a dinner at the temple of the Egyptian god Sarapis, and the second is a letter from a son or daughter to mom back home.
“It is gratifying to add more pieces of evidence to what is known of life in ancient times,” Nelson says.
The researcher says it is also important that such links to the past are preserved and is pleased to see a Canadian institution included in safeguarding such ancient documents, since most are preserved in Europe or the United States.
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