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Washington University Papyri Collection


Like many North American universities, Washington University in St. Louis acquired its papyrus collection through subscription to the Egypt Exploration Society. A British society, the EES was founded in 1882 for the exploration and excavation of the antiquities of the Nile Valley. One of the main ways they raised funds was by subscription.

In the University’s archives is a copy of a letter, dated April 4, 1922, from William Flinders Petrie, in which he promises, for just $100 or $200, “a fair output of material”. That same year, the St. Louis chapter of the Archaelogical Society of America (also known as the Archaeological Institute of America) subscribed, and they received goods from Tell el-Amarna. These items included fragments of household items (rope, a mat, bobbins, bronze needles, etc), scarabs, moulds, and amulets. Although some items had to be returned to the EES due to funding and space issues, many items and also some papyrus found their way to the St. Louis Art museum .

In a separate shipment, but from the same subscription, a packet of papyri was sent to Professor George Throop of the “Greek Department” at the University. We know that the material came from the vicinity of Oxyrhynchus, but there is no detailed information about its provenance.

A little under a quarter of the collection has been published. The first volume is edited by Verne Brinson Schuman, and came out in 1980. The second, edited by Klaus Maresch and Zola M. Packman, appeared in 1990. These editors were kind enough to glaze many of the pieces that they worked with, and the remaining items rest in archival-quality folders in climate controlled storage.

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