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Tru Vue Blog: The Patterns of Papyrus

With just over a week left to go to get your Icon / Tru Vue grant applications in, we're sharing a blog from a 2016 grant recipient

Anna Johnson's grant to enabled her to attend an internship in Berlin, demonstrating just one of the many ways the grants can be used by conservators to further their professional development. Here, she shares with us her experience:


From 15 August to 2 September 2016, I attended a three-week papyrus conservation internship with Myriam Krutzsch at the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussamlung (ÄMP) in Berlin. I had recently completed the Papyrology Conservation Summer School at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and so during my time in Berlin I was able to build upon my initial training by conserving (under one-to-one supervision) a series of carefully chosen papyri from the ÄMP’s collections. Treatments included removal of adhered paper mounts from a second-century Greek tax letter and a section from a Ptolemaic Book of the Dead, and cleaning, straightening and repair of a Demotic letter that had been deformed during removal from cartonnage during the twentieth century. 

This unexpectedly revealed five separate texts, which will now be made available for study

final_repair_credit_myrian_krutzsch_0.jpgA particular highlight for me was the conservation of a group of first–third century  CE Greek documentary fragments, which had been stuck together in such a way that they could not be safely housed or handled, and several areas of text were unreadable. Under Mrs Krutzsch’s expert guidance, I cleaned the heavily soiled surface, gently humidified the whole object and then (very carefully!) separated all the adhered areas. This unexpectedly revealed five separate texts, which will now be added to the ÄMP’s inventory and made available for study.

berlin_p.21428-32_before_treatment_0.jpgMy practical training was interspersed with teaching on the structure and forms of papyrus documents. Mrs Krutzsch's knowledge of this subject is extraordinary, having been built up over decades of working with the ÄMP’s vast papyrus collection, and it was truly amazing for me to have access to the same collection as part of my training. Subjects we covered over the three weeks included identification and documentation of physical details of papyri (such as fibre concentration and surface structure) in a way that can help to identify historical information about location and period of manufacture, and the systematic description of sheet forms and sheet joins. In addition, Mrs Krutzsch’s research on folded papyrus documents has opened up a new and fascinating aspect of the material to me, and moreover one which points to its everyday use in amulets, tax and legal documents and letters. Learning to read papyri for physical signs of use or manufacture, and understanding the difference between damage and traces of lost three-dimensional forms, has been a complete revelation. 

berlin_p.21428-32_during_separation_0.jpgMrs Krutzsch also gave me an unexpected treat on my last day, in the form of an inventory of a series of boxes containing uncatalogued or partly catalogued material from the collection. This turned up an array of delights, including a folder of carbonized papyri, the smallest scroll I have ever seen, fragments of several early Coptic codices (including four decorated covers), and several more-or-less convincing fakes.

Access to practical training in papyrus conservation is all too rare, so I am hugely grateful to the ÄMP, Icon, Tru Vue, and Cambridge University Library for helping me to develop my skills and knowledge in this area. I will be putting my training to good use by beginning a much-needed programme of papyrus conservation at Cambridge University Library early next year, and will shortly start to share what I have learnt with my colleagues.

Anna Johnson is a Book and Paper Conservator at Cambridge University Library, and is responsible for conservation of the Library’s papyrus collections.

Click here for more information on Icon / Tru Vue grant applications. The deadline is 30th April. 

Lead Image: Identifying fold pattern pattern in a second-century Greek tax demand (Berlin P.6988); Anna Johnson ©
Image 1: Berlin P.21428–32 after separation; Myriam Krutzsch © 
Image 2: During final repair; Myriam Krutzsch © 
Image 3: Berlin P.21428–32 before treatment; Anna Johnson ©
​Image 4: Berlin P.21428–32 during separation; Anna Johnson ©


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Ian Watson - May 2017, Saturday 01:35pm

An excellent use of the grant - congratulations to all concerned.


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