Taking a Look Back, Way Back with the University of Michigan Papyrus Collection


It is easy to take for granted how easy it is to communicate in writing with our digital technology. Our computers and phones are marvels of engineering, creativity, and design that make the actual work of authors and readers quite simple. I sit down and type. I click and read.

Of course, this was not always the case.

To appreciate the challenges and complexity of documenting language in a text in the age of antiquity, it might be beneficial to introduce our students to the fascinating resources available at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor Library Papyrus Collection.

As much as I love the sheer bounty of quality writing and information available on the internet, there is something transcendent that I experience when I hold a book in my own hands and touch the paper itself. I doubt that I will have the opportunity to do that with the text fragment above, an excerpt from a school exercise book written in a Coptic dialect, so these images and my imagination will have to suffice. From the online exhibit compiled by Julia Miller, the fragment is:

“A school exercise book written in the Coptic dialect of Bohairic. The source of the book is believed to be Theadelphia, and the papyrus is dated to around the fourth century. Two nearly intact sheets and one fragmented sheet survive. This fragment is accompanied by a thread bundle that appears to have a knot mixed in; the gutter or fold region of the papyrus fragment is so closely written, and riddled with holes and loss areas that it is impossible to pick out a system of sewing holes, whether through the fold or through the side. The online database APIS (The Advanced Papyrological Information System) describes this item, including an interesting discussion of fiber orientation of papyrus sheets when used for a codex.”

The library collection contains a variety of K-12 educational resources that include the following pages:

What is Papyrology?

How Ancient Papyrus was Made:

Ancient Writing Materials:

Papyrus Making 101: 

For an educational worksheet I created for use with your high school students, please click on: Papyrus Webquestions

Please let me know if you used it and how you improved it!

Image Credit:- A School Exercise & Biblical Texts
P. Mich. Inv. 926, folio 4v, 5r digitally reprinted with permission from the University of Michigan Library Papyrology collection


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