Take Note

An exploration of note-taking in Harvard University Collections
< | >
Interactive Exhibition

7. Papyrus listing clothes

Found in the garbage dump


Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, (ca.) 275-399

"“…white garment of pure wool 1, white vests 2, undyed 2, purple vest 1, white veils 2…”
This is one of 84 manuscripts written on papyrus at Houghton, all but one in Greek, dating from the 3rd century BC to the 6th century AD. It comes from Oxyrhynchus, in Egypt, and was given to the Semitic Museum at Harvard by the Egypt Exploration Fund, London, between 1901 and 1909. The Semitic Museum received this “gift” in return for the purchase of a life membership in the Egypt Exploration Fund for $125 by Jacob H. Schiff, the museum’s principal benefactor. In 1960 the papyri were transferred to Houghton Library.
The papyri from Oxyrhynchus were first published by B. P. Grenfell, A. S. Hunt in the first six volumes of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri (London, 1898-1908). Papyrus was the medium of choice for record-keeping and permanent writing in antiquity, until the shift to the parchment codex between 2nd and 4th centuries CE. By contrast temporary notes were recorded on wax tablets which were meant to be erased with the application of heat and reused. Made from the pulp of the papyrus plant, a reed which was especially common in the Nile delta of Egypt, the papyrus sheet offered a smooth, white writing surface, but in typical conditions it would deteriorate after a few hundred years. The Oxyrhynchus papyri were preserved in the exceptionally dry conditions that resulted when sand covered the garbage dumps into which the documents had been thrown, mostly between the 1st and 4th centuries CE.

. Houghton MS Gr SM2214 .
HOLLIS Catalog: 009929730
papyrus, lists, archeology



ryanski1@aol.com's picture
Submitted by ryanski1@aol.com on

Papyrus is a well known material associated with ancient Egyptian culture and Egyptian record keeping. Again, anthropology would conclude that 4th century Egyptians determined how their records were kept and on what material based on the importance of the value of what was being recorded. In instances like this one, the record survived hundreds of years perhaps partly because of its importance and the method of using papyrus.

Brendan Ryan

The Brendan Ryan Company
Houston, Texas

Add Comment