3,000-year-old papyrus fragments found
Ancient find may solve century-old puzzle, shed light on Egyptian history
By Rossella Lorenzi
updated 1:23 p.m. ET Feb. 27, 2009
Some newly recovered papyrus fragments may finally help solve a century-old puzzle, shedding new light on ancient Egyptian history.
Found stored between two sheets of glass in the basement of the Museo Egizio in Turin, the fragments belong to a 3,000-year-old unique document, known as the Turin Kinglist.
Like many ancient Egyptian documents, the Turin Kinglist is written on the stem of a papyrus plant.
Believed to date from the long reign of Ramesses II, the papyrus contains an ancient list of Egyptian kings.
Scholars from the British Museum were tipped off to the existence of the additional fragments after reviewing a 1959 analysis of the papyrus by a British archaeologist. In his work, the archaeologist, Alan Gardiner, mentions fragments that were not included in the final reconstruction on display at the museum. After an extensive search, museum researchers found the pieces.
The finding could help more accurately piece together what is considered to be a key item for understanding ancient Egyptian history.
"This is one of the most important documents to reconstruct the chronology of Egypt between the 1st and 17th Dynasty," Federico Bottigliengo, Egyptologist at the Turin museum, told Discovery News.
"Unlike other lists of kings, it enumerates all rulers, including the minor ones and those considered usurpers. Moreover, it records the length of reigns in years, and in some cases even in months and days."
Written in an ancient Egyptian cursive writing system called hieratic, the papyrus was purchased in Thebes by the Italian diplomat and explorer Bernardino Drovetti in 1822. Placed in a box along with other papyri, the parchment disintegrated into small fragments by the time it arrived in Italy.
Some 48 pieces of the puzzle were first assembled by French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832). Later, some other hundred fragments were pieced together by German and American archaeologist Gustavus Seyffarth (1796-1885).
One of the most important restorations was made in 1938 by Giulio Farina, the museum's director. But in 1959, Gardiner, the British Egyptologist, proposed another placement of the fragments, including the newly recovered pieces.
Now made of 160 fragments, the Turin Kinglist basically lacks two important parts: the introduction of the list and the ending.
"Some of the finest scholars have worked on the papyrus last century, but disagreement about its reconstruction has remained," Bottigliengo said. "It has been a never-ending puzzle."
"The enumeration of the kings does not continue after the 17th Dynasty. We are confident that the recovered fragments will help reconstruct some of the missing parts as well as add new knowledge to Egyptian history and chronology."
"It is possible that some dates will have to be changed and names of pharaohs will have to be added," Bottigliengo said.
The newly recovered fragments have been examined by the experts of the British Museum, following a collaboration begun by the museum director Eleni Vassilika. She drew on the experience of Gardiner, in conserving and mounting papyri.
"A preliminary visit revealed that there is huge potential to conserve and reconstruct the papyrus, including many small fragments that were left unplaced in Farina's arrangement of the 1930s."
"We are confident that a new examination with modern scientific techniques will enable a much improved reconstruction to be achieved," Richard Parkinson, curator in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum, told Discovery News.
© 2009 Discovery Channel