100 years ago two English archaeologists completed their excavations of the ancient Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus, and a new science was born: papyrology. From the town’s rubbish dumps they recovered over 500,000 papyrus fragments recording an extraordinary collection of poems, plays, private letters, tax receipts, wills and government circulars, dating from the 1st to the 6th centuries AD. New works by Sappho, sit-coms by Menander, the words of Sophocles, Euclid, Thucydides, Plato, Homer and Euripides, and some of the earliest written versions of the Christian gospels, have all come to light from the hand of Egyptian scribes writing over 1,500 years ago.
Dr Dirk Obbink, Fellow and Tutor from Oxford University and a career papyrologist, will be talking about the collection, which is held in the Ashmolean Museum, and his collaboration with astrophysicists on the Ancient Lives project. Now celebrating its fifth year, this innovative programme allows people from across the world to take part in the transcription of Oxyrhynchus’ priceless texts through an online portal where volunteers can match Greek letters with those they can identify on pieces of papyrus fragments.