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.

The Holden Arboretum

Knight Foundation

Don Drumm Studios


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

Columbus groups are trying to pass a Bill of Rights to combat fracking
Its about time we make a stand against the criminal actions of an entire Indsutry.

Crystal Ball says Ohio governor's race is done
How much is the Kasich campaign paying you to keep repeating the phrase "woman who is not his wife"? Fitzgerald was in the car with a friend who happens to be f...

Plane that crashed killing Case students is a popular training aircraft
The following is incorrect. The last few words should read "UNDER maximum gross take-off weight." “They have a normal take-off speed and all those take-off...

Exploradio: The never-ending war against superbugs
Super Federico ,we are so proud of you ,and very lucky to be among your friends . Keep it up human kind needs people like you to survive .Thanks for being so d...

Ohio's Lyme disease-carrying tick population is exploding
Interesting report. The last sentence needs some editing. It isn't a good idea to "save garments carrying ticks for analysis." The garments carrying t...

Teach for America enters third year in Ohio
For more background on TFA, check out http://reconsideringtfa.wordpress.com/

Faith leaders hold week-long prayer vigil at Ohio Statehouse
I think this is the wrong link to the audio. Its Andy Chow about cigarette taxes.

A $30 million plan to turn Cleveland's Public Square from gray to green
The current plan is for the Land Bank, RTA, and Mr. Jeremy Paris to run a bus line through the new Public Square and cutting the park in half. Save Public Squar...

Medina County residents question safety of proposed natural gas pipeline
I'm very concerned about this nexus project. I've received mail requesting my permission to allow the company to survey my property. I don't understand how thi...

A small group of tea party and Democrats protest at Kasich campaign stop
Enjoyed your excellent coverage of the statehouse for sometime now, never dreamed I'd be on. The feedback from people has been great. Thank you. Doris Adams

Copyright © 2014 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