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April 18, 2005
One Hopes the Results Will be Public Domain
Oxford University researchers claim to be able to use an infra-red technology to finally read the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. If you, like me, had no idea what the heck these were, they're a potential treasure trove of Greek plays, writings by Sophocles, Euripides, and Hesiod, as well as possible Christian gospels written around the time of the earliest parts of the New Testament. Obviously this storehouse would be of tremendous value to scholars and theologians.
The original papyri were found, literally in a garbage dump, over 100 years ago. They've been stored in boxes in Oxford's Sackler Library. Apparently they're completely illegible to the naked eye, but someone had the foresight to save them in hopes they could later be read.
Reading the text is only the first step. Since most of the "documents" are actually fragments there's another task of putting together pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to rebuild actual wholes, estimated to run to about five million words in five or six languages.
The project has been sponsored by by the London-based Egypt Exploration Society whose Web site doesn't appear to contain any information on plans for the recovered material. I also checked around Oxford's site but didn't see anything relevant. The papyri themselves have their own Web site.
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