The Stanford University Libraries recently completed a four-year project that conserved and digitized 350 fragile fragments of ancient papyri previously inaccessible to scholars. The collection comprises papyri fragments containing Demotic, Greek, Coptic, and Arabic writing, dating from 200 BCE through 200 CE. Many of the fragments are "cartonage" (discarded papyri manuscripts used to wrap mummies) excavated at Giza in the early 20th century.
The project began in early 2008, when Dr. Joseph Manning from the Department of Classics contacted the Preservation Department. Classics was preparing to host the Stanford Papyrological Institute and wished to display the papyri. However, the fragments' delicacy and brittleness rendered them impossible to read - and most were rolled, folded, and covered in plaster from the mummies.
The Preservation Department enlisted the expertise of Leyla Lau Lamb, a papyri conservation expert from the University of Michigan, to provide specialized training to Stanford's conservators. Following the training, Elizabeth Ryan took the lead, and with the assistance of David Brock, Carolee Wheeler, and Sarah Newton, successfully treated 43 fragments for use at the Papyrological Institute. The conservation staff documented, stabilized, conserved, and housed the papyri, making them assessable for scholarly use.
Staff continued work on the remaining fragments, eventually conserving all 350 pieces. Digital Library Systems and Services will scan each fragment, and make them available through the Stanford Digital Repository.