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Ancient Paper Finally Gets Respect


April 1, 2008
By Pulp & Paper Canada

It’s tattered and battered, it went on to wrap a corpse, it’s been kicking around for who knows how long but, today, that piece of ancient ‘paper’ -a much-abused papyrus more than 2,000 years old -is …

It’s tattered and battered, it went on to wrap a corpse, it’s been kicking around for who knows how long but, today, that piece of ancient ‘paper’ -a much-abused papyrus more than 2,000 years old -is an object of deep reverence for cartographers, Egyptologists and historians worldwide.

Full of doodles and scribbles, the Papyrus of Artemidorus is now deemed the most ancient geographic map of the Classical World. It’s also now valued in excess of $3.4 million.

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Claudio Gallazzie, professor of Papirology at the University of Milan has studied the papyrus since the 1990s. The story began in mid-first century B. C. in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. There, an unknown, yet patient copyist began working on a blank, 10-foot roll of papyrus, transcribing the second of 11 books by Greek geographer Artemidorus of Espesus. Early into the work, the copyist left a space for maps but, according to modern experts studying the result, the painter messed up, big time. He drew in the wrong map. The error was only partial but it was indelible. As a scholarly work, the entire papyrus was useless.

Rather than being thrown out, the ‘ruined’ papyrus became a catchall practice and work sheet for the copy house’s artists, the blank spots filled in with faces and animal drawings, indexes of mosaics and frescos. When there was no room left, it was sold for pulp and was used to help wrap a mummy. For 1,800 years, it lay underground and forgotten.

The papyrus literally resurfaced in the early 1990s when the unearthed mummy’s cartonnage was sold to a collector, later resold and entered the collectors’ market, largely unnoticed. Finally, someone looked closely, unraveled the cartonnage and discovered the battered -but historically valuable – papyrus within.

The Papyrus of Artemidorus was on display in Turin, Italy, at the Bricherasio Palace from Feb. through April. It will likely tour museums in Europe and the United States before being placed in the Egyptian Museum in Turin.


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