Cartonnage Deconstruction Project

Fragment: 057.09


Papyrology Seminar – Fall 2006

Christian Teuchtler


Initial Description

            Cartonnage fragment 057.09 (formerly 12) measured approximately 3.0 x 2.8 centimeters, and was not of uniform thickness.  About two-thirds of one side of the fragment was covered with a thick plaster-like substance, which we have commonly referred to in the seminar as ‘peanut brittle.’  There were a minimum of two, and possibly three (or even more?), separate papyrus fragments within this piece of cartonnage.  This is clear from distinct variations in the direction of the papyrus fibers on both sides of the cartonnage fragment.  There was also some evidence of burning along one edge.  No evidence of writing was visible.


Course of Procedure

            I initially attempted to remove the “peanut brittle” using two pairs of tweezers, but this immediately proved impossible.  I then subjected the cartonnage fragment to simple room-temperature humidification.  The cartonnage fragment, with “peanut brittle” side up, was placed upon an alabaster platform which in turn was placed in the middle of a large flat bowl filled with about an inch of water.  This bowl was then covered with a glass lid and placed in the sunlight for six hours, after which the bowl was moved into the shade and then allowed to sit overnight.  The following morning it was again moved back into the sunlight for another six hours. 

At this point the cartonnage fragment was quite moist and, again using two pairs of tweezers, I attempted to separate the “peanut brittle” from the papyrus pieces.  This now proved to be quite easy to accomplish, although now, since the entire cartonnage fragment was so thoroughly moistened, the several pieces of papyrus were also coming apart and it was quite difficult to tell if they were separating from each other or were themselves being torn.  I therefore allowed the cartonnage fragment to sit for about four hours and dry out a little before proceeding further.  The “peanut brittle” had been about 80% removed from the papyrus pieces at this point.

When the cartonnage fragment had dried out a little it was significantly easier to work with without damaging.  The “peanut brittle” separated easily from the papyrus pieces at this point, although it broke into two (almost three) pieces in the process.  These have been placed in a plastic sleeve separate from the papyrus pieces since they are somewhat thicker and do not work well between the glass plates along with the papyrus.  The resulting papyrus fragment was clearly composed of two or more distinct papyrus pieces, although it was still difficult to tell exactly how many since the fibers were overlapping each other in various directions on both sides, and more of the black substance (which I initially took as possible evidence of burning) appeared beneath the “peanut brittle” obscuring the direction of some of the fibers. 

I then found that by very lightly scraping the surface of the papyrus pieces with the tweezers, I could remove the black substance without damage to the papyrus.  When this was finished it was clear that there were in fact several pieces of papyrus stuck together, probably three or four in total, but since the pieces were intricately interwoven together, it did not seem possible to separate them without significant damage.  I don’t know what the black substance was, although clearly it was not any remains of writing – evidence for which was still non-existent. 

A week later, having been prompted to attempt to separate the papyrus pieces anyway, I again subjected them to three hours of simple room-temperature humidification by the same procedure described above.  Again using two pairs of tweezers, I attempted to take the fragment apart.  This did not go well.  Although the fragment generally separated along the lines that I was expecting (and intending), two of the larger papyrus pieces within the fragment were themselves torn into two completely separate pieces.  Many very tiny bits of papyrus broke and flaked off during the process and I found it quite impossible to put any of them back together.  The resulting smaller pieces were set aside and allowed to dry thoroughly, after which they were placed between two glass panes in a rough approximation of how they should go together (although they immediately began to slide around between the glass and their position is even less obvious now).


End Result

            There are now nine small pieces of papyrus, and two pieces of “peanut brittle."  These have been rewrapped separately due to the difference in their relative thickness.  The papyrus pieces have been placed between to pieces of glass, while the “peanut brittle” was placed into a plastic sleeve on account of their size.  Only one piece of the papyrus fragments shows any possibility at all of bearing any evidence of writing, and even this is rather doubtful.  This piece of papyrus contains several black smudges that were different from the black substance described above that was removed.