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Papyrus for the People Project
Concluding the very successful, Arts Council Funded ‘Papyrus for the People’ project, the Petrie Museum is opening up a space dedicated to the display of its large collection of papyrus, ostraca and other written material.

The project will allow us to display newly conserved,  written collection in purpose built showcases, with new translations and interpretation. We will be able to change the displays regularly linking to other objects in the collection or to topical subjects in the news. 

The project has been a rich foundation for an innovative and socially inclusive audience engagement programmes including opportunities for creative writing and storytelling from family events to explorations in modernist literature. 

The Papyrus for the People project has allowed us to make translations of ancient that are texts accessible and understandable to a wide, non-specialist audience. With new photography the translated and interpreted texts will become far more searchable on the Petrie Museum website, allowing questions concerning issues such as gender, inequality, and sexuality to be raised and researched by anyone, wherever they are in the World.

The Petrie Museum’s collection of written texts is world-class. Within the papyrus collection alone, it includes rare and unique specimens such as:

  • One of the world’s oldest legal manuscripts (a will) from Egypt dating to 1818 BC (UC32037)
  • Some of the world’s oldest medical texts including the renowned gynaecological papyrus (UC32057)
  • The only known veterinary text from the ancient world (UC32036)
  • Some of the world’s earliest mathematical problems on paper (e.g. UC32160/UC32162)
  • A unique set of hymns to the king (UC32157)

The will of Mery Interfson (Antef Meri).

Alongside these official texts, our collection also boasts many more personal documents, such as letters, which contain the voices of people from around 3000 BC onwards. Moreover, in nearly 2000 written documents, in languages including Hieratic, Demotic, Coptic, Greek and Arabic, we have represented a variety of societies that held multiple identities, faiths and worldviews.

While basic registration of this material has been set up and academic works have been written about the collection, the voices themselves are often inaccessible to the majority of the museum’s users, as it is locked up in technical terminology. Our project team is working with specialists to research and improve understanding of the Petrie’s collection of written culture in order to make their content transparent, accessible, and engaging

To facilitate this research and interpretation, as well as ultimately making the collection as accessible as possible, we will be:

  • Rehousing and conserving the collection’s papyri (over 500 objects), so that they will be more accessible and in a safer environment.
  • Evaluating the storage of our ostraca collection; rehousing if necessary (over 1600 objects).
  • Editing and supplementing the information of our written texts on our internal database (and by default the publicly-accessible online version).
  • Generating user-friendly descriptions that will make them easier to research and more intelligible.
  • Creating high resolution images of the papyri, many of whose photographs on the database only show fragments of the papyri and not the reconstructed examples following a decade of conservation.
  • Developing an exhibition on the project to promote our findings and the collection.

We believe that by developing our understanding of this material, promoting its relevance, and celebrating its significance, the resilience and importance of specialist museum collections such as this can be demonstrated.

The Designation Scheme recognises, celebrates and champions significant collections of national and international importance held outside national museums. Awards of Designated status are made by an independent expert panel, based on the collection's quality and significance.

The 2016-18 round of the Designation Development Fund is investing £1,330,849 to support projects that ensure the long-term sustainability of Designated museum collections.

The Designation Development Fund recognises the importance of excellent collections and provides funding for projects that ensure their long-term sustainability, maximise their public value and encourage the sharing of best practice across the sector. In this round, we will focus on opportunities around research and understanding of Designated collections.

Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2015 and 2018, we plan to invest £1.1 billion of public money from government and an estimated £700 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country. http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/

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