• Switzerland's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Ancient papyrus texts found in Basel uni library
Photo: University of Basel

Ancient papyrus texts found in Basel uni library

Malcolm Curtis · 10 Jun 2015, 09:57

Published: 10 Jun 2015 09:57 GMT+02:00

The 2,000-year-old texts, written in Greek, Latin, Coptic Egyptian and hieratic, were acquired by the university 115 years ago but were subsequently overlooked.

Sabine Huebner, professor of ancient history, recently found them in two drawers in the library’s manuscripts section, the university said on its website.

She began searching for them after responding to a request from a papyrologist (a scholar studying ancient papyrus manuscripts) who wanted to know if the Basel university had a papyrus collection.

The 65 manuscripts are “mostly everyday documents”, such as contracts, letters receipts and petitions, Huebner said in an interview published by the university.

But one of the most interesting ones is a private letter written by a Christian that dates from the first half of the third century, she said.

Other manuscripts include a transport contract for confiscated camels, a purchase agreement for a donkey, a loan, tax receipts and invoices, as well as other personal letters.

The University of Basel was one of the first German-language universities to acquire a papyrus collection in 1900, after the first discoveries of such documents was made in the late 19th century.

The field of “papyrology” boomed in the early part of the 20th century but interest in the subject later languished.

Huebner has now received backing from the Swiss National Science Foundation to digitally transcribe the papyri, translate the texts and provide commentary.

The project, involving post-doctoral researchers Graham Claytor and Isabelle Marthot and the university’s Diigital Humanities Lab, is set to start in September and will take two years to complete.

The project will also date the age of the ink used in the manuscripts through the aid of technology developed by Columbia University in New York, Huebner said.

Story continues below…

Huebner said the texts provide a fascinating insight into ancient times.

“We learn something about the daily life of ordinary people, about the concerns and needs of women, children, the poor and the elderly living more than 2,000 years ago,” she said.

“In the works of classical authors — basically men of the ancient upper class — these aspects of ancient societies are not addressed.”

Huebner added that only five percent of known papyrus manuscripts in the world have been edited and published while most are sitting in boxes waiting to be analyzed, offering plenty of potential for new research.

For more news from Switzerland, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Malcolm Curtis (news@thelocal.ch)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Swiss refuse to ban controversial weedkiller
File photo: Phillippe Huguen/AFP

Swiss farmers can continue to use the weedkiller glyphosate after the lower house of parliament decided on Friday not to ban it.

People in Switzerland ‘fly too much’ says environment body
File photo: Swiss International Air Lines

People in Switzerland travel by plane twice as much as their neighbours, a WWF spokesperson has said.

Bern: shared parental leave ‘too expensive’
Switzerland has no statutory paternity leave. File photo: Robert Valencia

Parliament rejects a bill which would have granted fathers some paternity leave.

UN: Fear of ageing 'shortens your life'
The number of people over 60 worldwide is set to double by 2025. Photo: Hernan Pinera

New data from the World Health Organization highlights the widespread prevalence of ageist attitudes worldwide.

Swiss helicopter crash: technical fault ruled out
Two pilots died in the crash on the Gotthard pass. Photo: Michael Buholzer/AFP

Technical failure was not to blame for the crash involving a Swiss army helicopter on the Gotthard pass on Thursday.

Turkey angry after Swiss tout ‘kebab ban’
Is banning the burqa as 'foolish' as banning the kebab? Photo: Jason Ramos

Turkish kebab chefs are up in arms after they misunderstood a spoof campaign to ban the kebab in Switzerland.

Study: Swiss ski resorts are losing their snow
Snow was thin on the ground in Gstaad last December. Photo: The Local

Could spring skiing soon be a thing of the past?

UBS fined $15m for misselling investments
File photo: Martin Abegglen

The Swiss private banking giant is accused of selling risky derivative investments to inexperienced investors in the US.

Two dead in Swiss army helicopter crash
The crash happened near the hospice on the Gotthard pass. File photo: swiss-image.ch/Heinz Schwab

Two people died and one other was injured when a helicopter crashed on the Gotthard pass in the Swiss alps on Wednesday.

Bern wants Swiss women to work longer
File photo: Candida Performa

The lower house of parliament has voted to extend women's retirement age by one year to 65.

Sponsored Article
7 tips for learning Swiss French
Photo: Lara de Salis
Features
11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Photo:  Ivo Scholz/Swiss-image.ch
Lifestyle
Survey: expats in Switzerland have money but few friends
Photo: AFP
Politics
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Photo: Jura Trois Lacs tourism
Lifestyle
German ex-policeman is Swiss city’s new hermit
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl
Politics
Ticino votes to favour local workers over foreigners
Photo: file
Health
Some deodorants could cause breast cancer: Swiss study
Photo: Royal Savoy
Lifestyle
In pictures: Inside the latest Swiss luxury hotel
Photo: AFP
National
Geneva airport bomb hoaxer faces 90,000-franc bill
Photo: Schaffhausen police
National
Mother leaves toddler son alone in car to go clubbing
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Swiss populist attacked by knife-wielding pensioner
Photo: File
Politics
Bern argues over passports for 3rd generation foreigners
Photo: Broad Bean Media
Education
Muslim pupils must shake hands – ‘no ifs and buts’
Photo: AFP
Society
Swiss ‘slave children’ to finally get compensation
Photo: Jan Geerk/Swiss-image.ch
Lifestyle
Zurich named ‘greenest’ city on the planet
Photo: Swiss
National
Brawl over seats forces Swiss to abort flight
Photo: Daniel Stockhammer
Culture
Research shows typical Swiss chalets ‘not actually Swiss’
Photo: AFP
National
Switzerland to get nationwide disaster alert system
Photo: S3
National
Swiss space firm boss left badly injured in violent attack
Photo: ETH Zurich
Education
ETH Zurich crowned best uni in continental Europe – again
File photo: Martin Abegglen
National
Report: Swiss citizenship rules leave some stateless
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
National
Fatal crash: pilot told to fly below safe altitude
Photo: Peter Linke
Business & Money
Elderly Italian on benefits stashed €1m in Swiss bank
Photo: Stuart Richards
Society
Court sides with chickens in dispute over noisy henhouse
4,381
jobs available