Library's papyrus leads to an ancient detective story
In 1889, Andrew Dickson White's extensive travels found him in Cairo, where he purchased an 8-foot-long papyrus scroll found in an ancient tomb. A museum conservator told White it was Spell 125 from the "Book of the Dead," a traditional Egyptian funeral text.
White shipped it to Ithaca and, trusting his account, no one translated the scroll after it arrived in the library's archives – until now, when a collections assistant in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC) examined it carefully.
Fredrika Loew '12, a Near Eastern studies and archaeology major who knows hieroglyphics and began as a student assistant in RMC, consulted with her colleagues and found something odd about the text.
"It's written in hieratic, the hieroglyphic equivalent for papyrus, and it’s clear from the drawing that it has something to do with death and burials," Loew said. "But when I looked at it carefully, the words didn't seem familiar."