Elena Luise Hertel

Palimpsests among the heterogeneous papyri from Deir el-Medina: scribal practices and (re)use in a comparative perspective (Arbeitstitel)


While most of the research done on ancient Egyptian papyri focuses on the content of the text written on them, a systematic study of the manuscripts themselves – the papyrus sheet, the ink, the arrangement of texts, the peculiarities of the writing, etc. – can reveal a lot of information on the scribes and their writing customs. The aim of this PhD is to investigate the reuse of papyri in the workmen’s village Deir el-Medina, a topic frequently mentioned, but never treated extensively in Egyptological literature. Papyrus was reused in different ways, for instance by writing on the verso or even writing in the margins of a previous, content-wise unrelated text. Quite often the ink was even removed to gain room for a new text, making the papyrus a palimpsest.

Primarily focussing on this practice of creating palimpsests, this PhD project is aimed to shed light on the concept of reuse of papyri in Deir el-Medina and the reused manuscripts themselves. This includes both practical matters – (How was the ink removed? Which papyri were salvaged and how often could they be re-purposed? How many papyri we have are actually reused? Which methods can be employed to detect a palimpsest?) – as well as questions concerning the ancient Egyptian scribal culture and the biography of the individual manuscripts (What were the reasons for the reuse? Were some text types more likely to be erased? Were some texts preferably written on blank or reused papyrus? Did individual scribes have specific ways of (re)using their scrolls?).

The purpose of this project is not only to find out more about ancient Egyptian scribal culture, but also to evaluate the application of modern technology on this type of manuscripts, and to demonstrate the potential of studies which combine research on material aspects and content of ancient documents.