1. Early findings
  2. "First discovery of al-Fayyûm"
  3. "Second discovery of al-Fayyûm"
  4. Later discoveries in al-Fayyûm
  5. Discoveries outside al-Fayyûm
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2.a.1. Early findings

In 1824 first findings of Arabic Papyri were made by Egyptian farmers (fallâHûn) at the monastery of St. Jeremy (dayr abû hirmîs) near Saqqâra. They found a small pot containing two Arabic Papyri, which were bought by Bernardo DROVETTI and edited by Antoine SYLVESTRE DE SACY in 1825 - who in a way could be counted as the first Arabic papyrologist.

Only in 1877/78 farmers again found in Kôm al-Kharyâna (in the area called al-Sâga) or in Kôm Fâris - both next to the old Arsinoë (the old Krokodílon Pólis) - a large pile of papyri. These were sold in Cairo and went on to the Egyptian Museum in Berlin (H. BRUGSCH), the Bodleian Library in Oxford (E.T. ROGERS), to Egyptian antiquity markets and into the hands of private owners (H. BRUGSCH, O. LOTH).

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2.a.2. "First discovery of al-Fayyûm"

Almost at the same time (1880) the carpet trader Th. GRAF acquired on behalf on the Viennese orientalist J. KARABACEK over 10'000 papyri and some texts written on textiles. Of those over 3'000 have been written in Arabic. The papyri originated from Kôm Fâris (Krokodílon Pólis) and Ihnâs (Herakleopolis), the textiles from Kôm al-‘Azma. After their transfer to Vienna in 1882 they became known as the "First discovery of al-Fayyûm". In 1883 they were presented to the public at an exhibition, for which J. KARABACEK wrote a catalogue. Later the papyri were bought up by the protector of the "Kaiserliche Akademie der Wissenschaften" in Vienna, Erzherzog RAINER.

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2.a.3. "Second discovery of al-Fayyûm"

The discoveries in al-Fayyûm continued (especially in al-Sâga, Kôm Fâris, Kôm al-Tayyâra), so that Th. GRAF was able to acquire a second large collection of papyri. In 1884 he sold the newly called "Second discovery of al-Fayyûm" to Erzherzog RAINER in Vienna.

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2.a.4. Later discoveries in al-Fayyûm

The discoveries in al-Fayyûm and its surroundings still went on in large numbers at least untill 1894. But even later lots of fragments of papyri were found (excavations of B.P. GRENFELL and A.S. HUNT). They originate from different places in al-Fayyûm and from Ibshâya (today Ibshawây al-Rummân), Ihrît (today Ihrît al-Gharbîya), Tutûn and the monastery of Qalamûn.

A new chapter in Arabic papyrology was opened with the aforementioned excavations of B.P. GRENFELL and A.S. HUNT in 1895/96. New fragments were found at Umm al-Athl (Bacchias) and later at excavations of Madînat Mâdî (worked out by W. SCHUBART and Fr. ZUCKER) in 1910.

Many papyri (good pieces and fragments) were found by the collectors of fertilizer (sabbâkhûn). Those sabbâkhûn have represented a big danger for the papyri, as their rough methods for collecting the fertalizer did not help the preservation of the papyri. This danger was more or less banned in 1935, as the Italian Missione archeologica d'Egitto obtained the licence for excavations by the Egyptian state.


IMPORTANCE OF THE AL-FAYYÛM PAPYRI: Due to their covering a broad field of contents and a long period of time

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2.a.5. Discoveries outside al-Fayyûm

Discoveries were made in the following further sites and villages or towns of Egpyt [for localisation, cf. MAP OF EGYPT]:

Mît Rahîna (Memphis): findings in the 19/20th centuries, acquired by the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
Abû Sîr al-Malaq: acquired by the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
Ihnâs: excavations starting from 1880, findings acquired by Th. GRAF, G. SCHWEINFURTH, U. WILCKEN and H. SCHÄFER (who brought them to Hamburg, where they were destroyed by fire on the ship), Vienna and Heidelberg (SCHOTT-REINHARDT collection)


excavations starting from 1895/96 (by Shaykh HASAN, B.P. GRENFELL, A.S. HUNT), acquired by the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
al-Bahnasâ’ (Oxyrhynchos): excavations starting from 1896 (by B.P. GRENFELL, A.S. HUNT, W.M. FLINDERS PETRIE, E. BRECCIA), acquired by the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and Hamburg

al-Ushmûnayn (Hermopolis magna):


(Further places:

excavations starting from 1880s (by the sabbakhûn, later by O. RUBENSOHN, P. VIERECK and Fr. ZUCKER), acquired by C. Graf LANDBERG (Vienna), Earl CRAWFORD OF BALCARRES (John Rylands Library of Manchester), Bibliothèque Khédiviale de Caire (today Dâr al-Kutub), Egyptian Museum in Cairo, University of Michigan

Nawâya, Biblâw, Mâshîya: all near al-Ushmûnayn)

IMPORTANCE OF THE AL-USHMÛNAYN PAPYRI: Due to their covering a broad field of contents and a long period of time


Kôm Eshqawh (Aphroditô): discoveries starting from 1901 (papyrus rolls and fragments) (by village people). The Arabic papyri that appeared on the market later were acquired by the Bibliothèque Khédiviale (Dâr al-Kutub), Berlin, Heidelberg, London, Strasbourg, Moscow, H. IBSCHER, Fr. TÄSCHNER
Akhmîm (Panopolis): some of the papyri of the SCHOTT-REINHARDT collection (Heidelberg) seem to come from here
Edfû (Apollinopolis magna): excavations in the 20th century (first by the sabbâkhûn), acquired by the Bibliothèque Khédiviale (Dâr al-Kutub), Erzherzog RAINER collection (Vienna), Egyptian Museum of Cairo, Hamburg; (later by French and Polish excavation teams), acquired mainly by the Institut Français d'archéologie orientale (IFAO)
Aswân: excavations starting from 1907 (by Fr. ZUCKER), acquired by Hamburg
al-Fustât (Old Cairo):

(first findings by the sabbâkhûn); systematic excavations starting from 1912, acquired by the Musée de l'art arabe in Cairo, Erzherzog RAINER collection (Vienna), University of Heidelberg

al-Fustât: There are no papyri prior to the time of the Fâtimids


Qusayr al-Qadîm: systematic excavations starting in 1999 under the direction of D. PEACOCK, L. BLUE, S. MOSER; findings of papyri, ostraca woodden tablets and ostrich eggshells (QUSAYR AL-QADIM PROJECT)


Kôm Qulzum: discovery of an Arabic paper in 1890, acquired by Berlin
Nile-Delta: just very few discoveries in Tanta, because of the humid climate

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‘Awjâ’ al-Hafîr (about 60 km south of Beersheva):

findings of Arabic and Greek papyri

near Damascus:

discovery of two Arabic papyri, acquired by the Oriental Institute of Chicago

Damascus: The findings near Damascus are important for the history of the umayyad financial system in Syria


Sâmarrâ: German excavations, acquired by the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin


Central Asia: findings of papers near the Murgh mountain, south of the river Zarafshân in the old Sogdianê, acquired by the Academy of Sciences in St. Peterburg



with an old garbage heap (kôm) to the right
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Special TERMINI in connection with the places of discovery:

kôm: most of the papyri were found on the garbage heaps outside the (former) towns, called kôm.
‘afsh: these garbage heaps (kôm) contain a layer of trash (‘afsh), consisting of soil mixed with little pieces of twigs or straw. This layer is between some inches to some meters thick and it is in here that the papyri were preserved.
sibâkh: if this ‘afsh becomes too soft, it turns a powdery dust called sibâkh, in which fragile material like papyrus decays quickly. As this sibâkh is a good fertilizer, it is excavated by the sabbâkhûn. They thus often destroyed the papyri which to them were not important.

The best conserved papyri have been found in buildings and ruins of houses that were given up by their inhabitants and covered by sand.

For a good preservation it is important that the papyri were not weighed down too much. Another vital factor is, that they were conserved dry, for humidity is one of the foremost enemies of the papyri.

REFURBISHING OF THE PAPYRI: thus becomes a difficult task. Special techniques are required to avoid destroying the papyrus. One of these techniques is - surprisingly - water, which if closely checked brings the papyrus back to the desired shape.