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Crossing Boundaries - Understanding Complex Scribal Practices in Ancient Egypt

The partners on this 4-year project (start date: March 2019) are the University of Basel (Switzerland), the University of Liège (Belgium), and the Museo Egizio (Italy).

Crossing Boundaries - An Introduction

The ‘Crossing Boundaries’ project proposes a contextualised, interdisciplinary approach to the written material produced by the highly literate ancient Egyptian community of Deir el-Medina. This community consisted of the workmen who built the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings during the New Kingdom period (c. 1350–1000 BCE) as well as their families. The goal of the project is to enhance our understanding of the complex scribal practices that lay behind the texts produced by this community, and we aim to do this by studying a particular category of documents from Deir el-Medina kept at the Museo Egizio in Turin: the so-called ‘heterogeneous’ papyri.

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These papyri bear texts that belong to various genres. They include accounts, poems, letters, and hymns and were written quite often over a long period of time. From a methodological point of view, we aim to cross the boundaries between disciplines as diverse as archaeology, papyrology, palaeography, prosopography, and textual scholarship. Taking advantage of digital technologies, we also aim to bridge the gap between traditional philology, digital humanities, and the field of cultural heritage. The basis of this project is the papyrological material in the Museo Egizio. The museum has joined forces with teams from the universities of Basel and Liège in order

(a) to consolidate and restore thousands of Ramesside papyrus fragments in the Turin collection;

(b) to document all the hieratic Ramesside papyri in the Turin Papyrus Online Platform (TPOP);

(c) to digitally reconstruct the original documents;

(d) to study the variety of textual genres attested on each papyrus, assess the number of hands behind these texts, and ultimately draw various generalisations about the history of these documents.

For more information, see the project website

State of the art

The Museo Egizio has been developing its papyrus platform since 2017. To date, about 304 entries of Ramesside manuscripts containing a total of 1000 texts have been created. The 'Crossing Boundaries' project is providing financial support to employ a restorer who is taking care of the conservation and consolidation of the numerous undocumented fragments. About 9000 project-relevant fragments are going to be restored by the end of the 4-year project. 

About 1400 fragments have been restored so far, and more than 1100 have already been uploaded in the Turin Papyrus Online Platform. These fragments will be visible at first only to the group of collaborators, but will be accessible in the TPOP from 2023 onwards.

Museo Egizio