Tuesday, August 16, 2016

28th International Congress of Papyrology - Part 2

This is part 2 of a series. See also part 1.

Myriam Krutzsch gave some reflections on the material analysis of papyrus supports based on her years of experience as a conservator and recent collaboration on material analysis with Ira Rabin. She discussed important aspects of the material that should be documented by conservators, as well as how these can be important for locating the production of the papyrus in space and time.

Ira Rabin gave some of her thoughts and results on the study of ancient inks based on material analysis. Optically, carbon inks are black, those from plant extracts brown, and iron gall inks black. Carbon inks show clearly in the IR range, whereas plant inks disappear, and iron gall disappears at long wavelengths greater than 1200 nanometers (for cameras that can't use such long wavelengths, iron gall inks are only barely visible at somewhat shorter wavelengths). Nevertheless, inks were often mixtures (even in written recipes), and many different types of metals and other chemical traces can tell you about the composition and origin of the inks.

Bruce Griffin stressed the subjective nature of assigning dates to manuscripts paleographically and the need for quantitative controls on these dates. Statistics cannot replace expert judgment, but they can be tools for making better critical judgments. Bruce then showed some preliminary statistics showing the relative prominence of slanting hands, decorated scripts, and individual letters' violating bilinearity to show the potential gains. As one who works regularly on Greek manuscripts, I for one would love to have a nice database to make the comparison process a lot easier. :)

A helpful plenary session moderated by Alberto Nodar featured a lineup of scholars discussing the current state of papyrology in relation to other questions: Gianluca del Mastro (Papyrology and science); Mark Depauw (Papyrology and new digital technologies); Marie-Hélène Marganne (Papyrology and academia); Roberta Mazza (Papyrology and ethics); and Cornelia Römer (Papyrology and archaeology).
  • Gianluca del Mastro surveyed recent developments in material analysis of papyri, carbon dating, and reconstructions of rolls.
  • Mark DePauw discussed current digital papyrological resources and the complications of working with them (e.g., the need for continuous updating and technical development). He made several recommendations, such as to publish openly, assist free websites with volunteer help, give scholarly credit to websites, accommodate industry standards, don't expect perfection, and keep studying the papyri carefully.
  • Marie-Hélène Marganne warned of the tenuous position of papyrology in academia in an era of budget cuts, institutional restructuring, and the loss of Greek and Latin training in schools. She suggested that papyrologists attempt to popularize the discipline (e.g., with exhibits and online presence) and to partner with other disciplines.
  • Roberta Mazza reviewed current discussions on ethics in papyrology, the market for papyri, their legal and cultural heritage status, and the role of collectors, calling for transparency in terms of provenance information and censoring scholars who do not follow the primary ethics codes of the papyrological societies. Most of the discussion in the round table focused on these issues, and the water cooler conversation revealed quite an uneasiness in the ranks about what some fear are simplistic solutions to complex questions. General impression: the ethical questions are extremely complex and controversial, and professional standards for scholars remain an unresolved issue with no consensus immediately in sight.
  • Cornelia Römer addressed prejudices from archaeologists against papyrologists and suggested that papyrologists should familiarize themselves with and participate in archaeological excavations to encourage cooperation and enrich research.
Brent Nongbri supported the theory that the technology of the codex developed from joining wooden tablets and making notebooks. One line of development constructed papyrus codices from multiple folded single sheets. Another line of development led to the construction of single-quire codices, subsequent experiments with codices of more than one quire, and then proper multi-quire codices with the important technological innovation of the link-stitch technique of binding the codices (certainly before the 4th century, but the early stages cannot be documented).

Lincoln Blumell and Thomas Wayment reported the results of their work on the Rendel Harris collection at the University of Birmingham, which were collected during Harris' two trips to Egypt in 1916 and 1922, mostly from Oxyrhynchus, but also some from elsewhere. Two volumes are already published, and a third is apparently in preparation by Nikolaos Gonis. Blumell and Wayment noted three early Christian papyri: 1) P. Birm. 317, which mentions an Oxyrhynchite bishop; 2) P. Birm. 300 (LXX Psalms 1:6b-2:1), an opisthograph from around the first half of the 4th century with a non-continuous text that they consider likely an amulet; and 3) P. Birm. 486 (Acts 9:1), a non-continuous NT text from the late 3rd or early 4th century, probably also an amulet.

Yanne Broux briefly summarized recent developments in the coverage of texts in Trismegistos: 1) including texts from Egypt from before 800 BCE; 2) covering texts from the entire ancient world, not just Egypt; 3) including Latin and Greek inscriptions; and 4) a new Networks feature. The TM Editors and TM People networks feature allows scholars to visualize social connections between modern editors collaborating on work and ancient people as various nodes connected by directed or undirected edges, which indicate the connections.

Nico Dogaer elaborated in more detail on Social Networking Analysis with the use of the Trismegistos database and illustrated its potential with a consideration of patterns of combinations of formulaic elements in Demotic letters.

Joanne Stolk illustrated the use of the TM Text Irregularities feature for studying ancient corrections and modern regularizations, using the iotacistic confusion of ει and ι as an example. The interchange is very frequent in the 1st-7th centuries, peaking in the 4th century. Then it declines in the 7th-8th centuries, despite the fact that they continued to be pronounced the same way. These iotacistic errors were also often corrected by scribes, but interestingly most corrections were from the 3rd-2nd century BCE. Thus, it appears that the phonetic equivalence/confusion was already beginning to occur in this period, but scribes recognized it and corrected it according to a standard. In later times, the confusion became so widespread that it became more widely acceptable.

Peter Arzt-Grabner addressed the bewildering array of diverse abbreviations for papyrological resources, offering several suggestions to help standardize the terminology for the aid of computer databases and nonspecialists.

And last... and maybe least... I hope my paper on two selective Greek texts of Exodus was interesting to someone... :) I suggested that Rahlfs 896 was an educational exercise and that Rahlfs 960 was a thematic collection focusing on passages pertaining to periods of rest. Thanks again to all those who gave helpful feedback during the session.

All in all, it was a great week in Barcelona, and I am very happy I went. As one who does not normally attend papyrological conferences, I had the chance to meet many new friends and found the papyrological community very warm and welcoming. A hearty thanks to the organizers and presenters. Perhaps I will see you all again in three years, if not sooner. :)