Papyrus fragment Kraft.cart052.4 (Alison Traweek; 03no2006)

In the beginning:

The piece was roughly 3.6 or 3.7cm. wide by 2.5cm. tall.  One side is apparently worm-eaten or rotted away, the other covered with a fine dust / mud / plaster with traces of two letters at opposite extremes of the piece.  It was difficult to tell at the outset which way the fibers run on either side.  There wass a fold on one edge where the piece is doubled over towards the worm-eaten side.  See the top left image (from eBay).

I started dusting the mud / plaster off with a soft paintbrush.  It began to come off nicely and I could see more ink – traces of three lines -- and I could see the horizontal orientation of the fibers, although the writing was not clear enough yet even to figure out what language it might be.  The piece was about to break in half if not into three – due to weak places where only the mud / plaster was holding it together.

I hadn’t started unfolding the side yet and, given how brittle and dry the piece was, I decided to do some humidifying.  I hoped to get a little more mud / plaster off first since I wasn't sure how that material would react to water.

Scans were made to show the progression.

After more cleaning with a Q-tip, the letters are clearer but still unreadable:

Character Description

Traces of 3 or perhaps 4 lines preserved, no margins, irregular tearing on all four sides.  Thin black ink, now faded or perhaps simply obscured by remaining mud / dust / plaster.  Upper line shows ink only on far left and far right sides; left side has one or perhaps two characters, app. 0.5cm. high.  Right side of upper line shows the lower part of a vertical stroke, app. 0.5cm. high with a slight tail to the left at the bottom.  Between upper and middle line on the right side is a group of perhaps three characters, app. 0.4cm. high, resembling a tau with left-leaning tail at bottom, epsilon, and what looks like another tau with a line under it (or a modern English capital I…). 

Middle line has what may be about 6 characters, ranging from 0.2cm. to 0.6cm. high.  It looks like a zeta (or Arabic number 2), then one or two letters that are obscured by the tear between it / them but show two vertical strokes that dip below the lower edge of the preceding letter.  Connection between the vertical strokes is unclear.  Next character resembles a very small (0.2cm.) pi but it too is on a tear and I can’t tell whether or not it is connected to the following stroke, which is a vertical stroke of app. 0.75cm., leaning slightly right and perhaps having a horizontal stroke from its middle.  Next character (either 4th, 5th or 6th depending on divisions in previous characters…) looks like a small (0.3cm.) omicron.  After that is a character resembling a cursive English m, app. 0.4cm. high.  Last figure looks like an Arabic number 4, 0.5cm. high. 

The final line shows three characters on the right side, 0.75cm. high.  The first two characters resemble nothing so much as an Arabic number 12.  The third character is a vertical stroke with tails coming down diagonally on both sides, the left one being about 0.6cm. long, the right one about 0.4cm. long.  Looks quite like an up-pointing arrow.  Although documentary handwriting is notoriously bad, this doesn’t resemble any consistent alphabet I know so I’m tempted to call it nonsense, some kind of modern forgery, but Bob suggested it might be Demotic (or possibly Greek mixed with Demotic) since modern forgery is unlikely on cartonnage pieces, especially when covered with some sort of coating.

Of course, there’s a chance that I’m trying to read it the wrong way, but I can make no better sense of it when I flip it 90 or 180º so I don’t think that’s where the problem is. 

The Smaller Scrap

I let it humidify overnight and it seemed soft enough to split open in the morning.  I opened up the piece on the right side, revealing a piece of another papyrus scrap trapped between the folds of my piece. It may have traces of ink on the with fibers side but they are extremely faded and very slight in any case.  It certainly seems to belong to the same roll if not the same sheet as the original, since it has the same worm-eaten signs on the against-fibers side and matches the original in color and fibers on the with-fibers side.  The original piece (now in 3 pieces and about to break into 4) is now just over 4cm. long. See final scans of against-fibers side and with-fibers side of both the main piece and the scrap. 

//end; edited by RAK 12de2006]]