Listening to Hard Rock helps Egyptologist make Middle-Kingdom Papyrus Discovery

In 2010 a doctoral student at Johns-Hopkins University in Baltimore named Marina Escolano-Poveda was present at a conference of Egyptologists in Mallorca. While there she visited the small and obscure local museum.  There she discovered some papyrus fragments written in demotic.  Over time she studied these and found them to belong to the early Middle Kingdom.  In the end, her repeated efforts to find out what they were bore fruit.  She was working on her doctorate, on a different period, so work on the fragments had to take place at night. She recalls the moment:

I remember perfectly the moment when I had this revelation. It must have been 3 o’clock in the morning. I was listening to the song ‘Salir’ by the group Extremoduro. I then realised that the papyrus I was looking at was by the same author as that of La Dispute![1]

The fragments belonged to a famous text, the Dialogue of a Man with his Ba, preserved as part of a set of 4 papyrus rolls in Berlin.  These came from a notorious 19th century dealer at the court of the khedive Ismail.  His real name is unknown, but he called himself Jean d’Anastasie.  He offered them for sale at Sothebys in March 1837, claiming that they originated at Thebes/Luxor, as no doubt they did.  This was the same dealer who also uncovered the library of Greek magical papyri.  The four rolls were purchased by Lepsius in 1842 who lodged them in the Berlin museum. Today it is P. Berlin 3024.

There was some damage to the start of the roll, as is not uncommon.  So it is likely that some portions split off, and were subsequently sold separately by the enterprising dealer.  Some have since been identified in the Amherst collection. Nothing is known about how they came to Mallorca.

The fragments are P. Mallorca I and II.  I found a photograph on this paywalled site:

Papyrus Mallorca I – fragment of P. Berlin 3024, Dialogue of a man with his Ba.

The find was published, and thankfully this is both in English, and open-access: Marina Escolano-Poveda, “New Fragments of Papyrus Berlin 3024,” in: Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde, 144 (2017) pp. 16-54 (accessible here).

There’s stuff out there, people.  If you look, you find it.  It doesn’t matter who you are, so long as you persist.

  1. [1]There are various tabloid accounts online.  This one is from Euronews, “Alicante Egyptologist Solves Enigma Of 4,000-Year-Old Manuscript”.

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