Numbering almost 7000 items, the Yale Papyrus Collection has a dazzling array of documentary and literary texts that span over a thousand years of history. The diverse papyri collection attracts scholars from all over the world, who not only make the journey to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library but also access the papyri images on-line through the on-going digitization project. In addition to digitizing the ancient papyri, Paula Zyats (Assistant Chief Conservator) and Tasha Dobbin-Bennett (Papyrologist) are also conserving and housing the papyri for long-term research and storage. Research conducted with the papyri not only directs scholarship in fields such as Classics, Middle and Near Eastern Studies, Papyrology, Egyptology, and Religious Studies, but also aids the library in prioritizing papyri for conservation. For example, Professor Nikolaos Gonis (University College London), during a recent visit, identified two unpublished pieces (P.CtYBR inv.’s 1500 & 1505) that were of particular interest to his research. However, in the past the papyri had been housed without conservation treatment. In order to facilitate a transcription of the texts, which were written in Greek, the library staff began conservation treatment.
After transferring the papyri over to the library’s Conservation and Exhibit Services’ Laboratory in Sterling Memorial Library, it was removed from the housing and assessed. Both papyri underwent treatment, allowing the use of controlled humidity to carefully smooth out any creases, folds, and unaligned fibers. The old glassine strips – a type of thin, acidic paper generally coated with adhesive that becomes discolored and brittle over time – that held the fragments together were also removed. Left untreated, the glassine strips can distort and damage the papyri.
Once the papyrus was straightened, the (rather) extensive drying period began under blotters and weights. Once completely dry, the fragments received a careful secondary cleaning to ensure that the text was as readable as possible, then very carefully, the fragments were realigned and affixed together with toned Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. At an earlier stage, the papyri fragments were placed together in such a way that the edges were overlapped, obscuring some of the text.
Once there was a complete papyrus, the fragments were rehoused and transferred back to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The next stage was to take new images of the papyri, and then send those images out to the scholar working on the texts.
As a result, Professor Gonis was able to offer new and important insights into the contents of the papyri, showing that P.CtYBR inv. 1500, dated to the 690’s C.E. It will be published in the near future and attests to the reconstruction of the city of Ḥelwān (Egypt) by ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz ibn Marwān, who is perhaps most famous for completing the Muslim Conquest of North Africa. As the governor of Egypt, at that time, he chose Ḥelwān as a settlement when the floods of 690 C.E. forced him to evacuate Al-Fusṭāṭ (Old Cairo). ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz ibn Marwān, was a member of the Umayyad dynasty, the son of one Caliph, the brother of the next, and the father of the following!