News
News Home
Quick Bites
Exploradio
News Archive
News Channel
Special Features
NPR
nowplaying
On AirNewsClassical
Loading...
  
School Closings
WKSU Support
Funding for WKSU is made possible in part through support from the following businesses and organizations.

Akron General

Hennes Paynter Communications


For more information on how your company or organization can support WKSU, download the WKSU Media Kit.

(WKSU Media Kit PDF icon )


Donate Your Vehicle to WKSU

Programs Schedule Make A Pledge Member BenefitsFAQ/HelpContact Us
Science and Technology




Exploradio - The papyrus window
Kent State students are among a handful of undergrads nationwide given access to ancient papyrus texts from Egypt
by WKSU's JEFF ST. CLAIR
This story is part of a special series.


Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
 
A fragment of ancient papyrus from the Egyptian city of Oxyrhyncus. Kent State students are translating a similar papyrus text.
Download (WKSU Only)
In The Region:

The discovery of a huge stash of papyrus scrolls in the Egyptian desert 100 years ago is gradually adding to our understanding of life in ancient times.  But it’s taken scholars decades to translate the thousands of fragile papyrus texts.

For the first time, a small number of undergraduate students have been enlisted to study the rare finds.

In this week’s Exploradio we decipher the papyrus of Oxyrynchus.

Exploradio - the papyrus window

Other options:
MP3 Download (4:08)


(Click image for larger view.)

The city of long-nosed fish

Beneath the shifting sands of central Egypt, two turn-of-the-century English explorers came across an ancient city dump filled with papyrus writings.   The explorers, Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt, sent tens of thousands of papyri back to Oxford and spent the rest of their lives translating a fraction of them.  

One un-translated papyrus is now housed at the Kent State University library, where classics professor Jennifer Larson gingerly lifts it.

“Every time we open the box I feel a thrill.”

The papyrus is slightly damaged, but remarkably whole - safely sandwiched in a plexiglass case.  It’s covered with neat rows of mysterious script.

“The big challenge is deciphering the handwriting.”

It’s ancient Greek, written in Roman Egypt.  It’s from the now disappeared city of Oxyrhynchus  -- an agricultural center named after a curious long-nosed Nile fish.  The people of Oxyrhyncus were apparently obsessed with documentation, which Larson says included the occasional housecleaning.

“It sat in someone’s records or storeroom for a long time and eventually it was so old that nobody wanted it anymore, so they took it with a lot of other stacks of papyrus out to the city dump. And that’s where it sat for the next two thousand years.”

Beneath the sands of time

Papyrus texts from Oxyrhyncus were preserved for centuries by the desert dryness.

They include previously unknown writings of the playwrights Menader and Sophocles, early Christian texts, including the Gospel of Thomas, and thousands of bills of sale, contracts, and private letters.

Kent State art major Kayla Zatezalo is one of four undergrads whose task is to translate this particular piece of papyrus. 

“Starting at the beginning it says, ‘year of the fourth of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Sebastian,’ which is a name for Augustus, ‘Germanicus’.  So that means it’s the fourth year of his reign, so that’s 44 A.D.”

Kayla does NOT know Greek, but being an art major helps.

“I’m viewing this more as almost like hieroglyphs, like pictures instead of letters.”

The papyrus is on loan to Larson and her students through the Green Scholars Initiative run by the Green family, owners of the Hobby Lobby chain.

As the economic downturn has forced institutions to downsize collections, the Green family has gone on a buying spree of ancient documents. This papyrus was formerly owned by the University of Dayton.   The Green collection is now one of the largest in the world.


Democratization of research 

Baylor University professor Scott Carroll is director of the Green Scholars program. He says the Kent students are among about 200 college students nationwide who will have direct access to rare ancient texts.

“It’s democratization of research of items, of access at many different levels that is what is in view here.”

Although scholars have been aware of this papyrus for years, no one has translated it. 

“These students and their professor will part of a publication of the very highest order in academics in the world in this area.”

Philosophy major Tommy Walsh and the other students are anxious to know what message the document contains from 2,000 years ago.

“We’ve read one line and we’ve got a lot more to go, and the question of what is to follow is keeping all of us on the edge of our seats, I’m sure.”

Jennifer Larson is all encouragement.

“You learn by doing.  So they started this project knowing no Greek at all, and look how well they’re doing already.”

Once translated, the Kent State papyrus will join the thousands of documents recovered from Oxyrhyncus that open a window into a lost people and place.

I’m Jeff St.Clair with this week’s Exploradio.


Related Links & Resources
Green Scholars Initiative website

Oxyrhynchus wikipedia page


Related WKSU Stories

Exploradio - The art of the skull menders
Monday, October 31, 2011

Exploradio - Monkshood patrol
Monday, October 10, 2011

Exploradio - The Power of Crystals
Monday, August 15, 2011

Listener Comments:

Why don't they partner with some of the Classics departments in the region, like CWRU or John Carrol? Surely having some Ancient Greek students helping would be beneficial.


Posted by: Archived (Cleveland) on November 7, 2011 9:11AM
Add Your Comment
Name:

Location:

E-mail: (not published, only used to contact you about your comment)


Comments:




 
Page Options

Print this page

E-Mail this page / Send mp3

Share on Facebook



Support for Exploradio
provided by:








Stories with Recent Comments

Nature and nourishment down by the river at the Metroparks' Merwin's Wharf
I love QUICKBITES! I look forward to it every week. One question: is it possible to include a link to the restaurant or store that you profile? Thanks!

Canton's proposed Timken-McKinley school merger is drawing spirited debate
From a sports opinion Varsity would have a lot more talent to choose from So Im sure varsity sports would improve.Also Timkens name would be much more published...

Canton school board will decide whether to merge high schools
I really hope we can save those jobs, usually we try to cut budgets but the demand is still the same. Then we look bad a year or two after the descion is made. ...

FirstEnergy wants PUCO guarantees on nuclear and coal prices
Would just comment that the plant has admitted the following (as reporting in the Akron Beacon Journal): "The utility has said it may have difficulty keeping t...

Mozzarella's easy when you have a way with curd
Hello, Where can I get such a heater that you have? Does it hold temperature that you set? What brand and model is it? Thank you in advance!! :)

Pluto: A healthy LeBron James is the key for the rocky Cavs
It's time to back our Cleveland professional teams through thick and thin. I've seen management, players and coaches come and go and it hasn't changed a thing. ...

Legal marijuana group offers new details about ballot issue
Americans feel as if they should have the right to decide on their own if and when it is or is not a responsible time to have a drink or smoke a joint. The fac...

The PUCO is assessing what happened in Akron's AT&T outage
not the first time for that steam pipe break... happened in the late 70's when the office was being converted to electronic switch ESS.. was a big mess then but...

The freeze of green-energy standards hurts Ohio wind and solar industries
What do we do at night and when the wind isn't blowing? Where does the power come from to back-up these renewable sources?

Gov. Kasich may still face budget battles with Ohio lawmakers
Governor Kasich continues to disappoint many of us who voted for him when he was elected Governor four years ago. It is way past time for charter schools to b...

Copyright © 2015 WKSU Public Radio, All Rights Reserved.

 
In Partnership With:

NPR PRI Kent State University

listen in windows media format listen in realplayer format Car Talk Hosts: Tom & Ray Magliozzi Fresh Air Host: Terry Gross A Service of Kent State University 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. NPR Senior Correspondent: Noah Adams Living on Earth Host: Steve Curwood 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. A Service of Kent State University