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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Papyrus for the People Language Day

By tcrnlmb, on 30 August 2017

As part of the Papyrus for the People Project, we at the Petrie Museum hosted a day wherein specialists in Ancient Egyptian languages came in and looked at our collection.

The day started out with a team meeting; outlining the details of the project and the type of content we would like them to produce. See here for more information about the project itself.

Having got the admin out of the way, we proceeded to let the specialists have at it!

Language specialists looking into an open cupboard filled with papyri

If you stare too long into a papyrus cupboard, the papyrus cupboard stares back at you.

We hoped that they would find papyri or ostraca with interesting and relevant stories, which people can still relate to today. For example, the object that started this whole project off was a letter (which was just on display at the Octagon exhibition: ‘Spotlight: Illuminating Stories from UCL Culture’) written on papyrus three and a half thousand years ago, by a woman named Irer. In this document she writes a report to her superior on the management’s neglect of the weavers: “The lord really should spend some time here… the threads have been set up, but cannot be woven!”

It’s amazing that, just like Irer, we’ve probably all had days where we are present at work, perhaps with fingers poised above the keyboard – ready – but, oh no! IT has gone down and now there is no access to emails, or your files, or anything at all….

Like Irer’s work woes, it’s the everyday stories and shared human experiences that we are extremely keen to bring to light through this project. Here are some of the highlights from the day:

Christelle Alvarez and Joseph Clayton, our specialists tackling the Hieratic texts, were happy to get stuck right in.

Christelle Alvarez and Joseph Clayton look at Hieratic Papyri

The Lahun papyri – almost too many to choose from!

Luigi Prada, studying our Demotic texts, found a really interesting and unusual papyrus (UC32374) that has a section of the Book of the Dead in Hieroglyphs on one side and a diagram of a shrine with its measurements in Demotic on the other.

Luigi Prada and two others stare at a papyrus on a table.

Reflecting on UC32374.

Shrine plan with measurements in Demotic written on papyrus

UC32374 – The two-faced text.

Raphael Cormack also came in to look at our Arabic texts, which are unfortunately, a relatively understudied part of our collection. He is still one of only a few people to ever study these writings, and from just a glance was able to tell us more than we had known previously.

Handwritten Arabic manuscript

Arabic book pages, UC71040i.


In all, it was a fantastic day and we are very much looking forward to the results of the specialists’ hard work!

The Designation Scheme recognises, celebrates and champions significant collections of national and international importance held outside national museums. Awards of Designated status are made by an independent expert panel, based on the collection’s quality and significance.

The 2016-18 round of the Designation Development Fund is investing £1,330,849 to support projects that ensure the long-term sustainability of Designated museum collections.

The Designation Development Fund recognises the importance of excellent collections and provides funding for projects that ensure their long-term sustainability, maximise their public value and encourage the sharing of best practice across the sector. In this round, we will focus on opportunities around research and understanding of Designated collections.

***Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2015 and 2018, we plan to invest £1.1 billion of public money from government and an estimated £700 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country. http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/





Louise Bascombe is the Curatorial Assistant working on the Papyrus for the People Project at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.


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