From Boats to Book-rolls: Unfolding the Materiality of Papyrus in Graeco-Roman Egypt
In this workshop we will trace the life of papyrus, both as a plant and as a roll, in the material culture of Graeco-Roman Egypt. First, we will examine how the actual plant Cyperus-Papyrus was exploited by the Roman- Egyptians. Based on ancient attestations we will discover how each and every part of the papyrus-plant could be of practical use, covering most aspects of everyday life; from food and medication, to the manufacture of household objects, such as sandals, curtains, floor- mats, bottle-stoppers or even boats. Then we will focus on papyrus as a writing material by following the process of its transformation from a plant into a papyrus-sheet and subsequently into a roll. After discussing its physical characteristics, we will go through the benefits of the papyrus-roll compared to other writing-mediums, as well as its disadvantages that led to its replacement by parchment-codices. We shall also investigate aspects of materiality that help papyrologists with their editorial work, such as the fibre-orientation, traces of folding, seals and levels of damage. Finally, we will examine the afterlife of some papyrus-rolls whose materiality was further exploited but their written nature would be sacrificed in order to serve different purposes, as is the characteristic example of their conversion to mummy-wrappings.
What Parchment is, and What it Means
This talk will consider parchment as a support in terms of both its manufacture and its significance; it will draw examples from a range of texts, written in forms including both codex and single-sheet.
The first part of the talk offers an overview of parchment as a material, particularly features common to most books and documents with parchment support—that is, aspects of a production process that all share—as well as some variations. The aim of this first part will be to understand how parchment itself was made, as well as how it was made into codices and charters.
The aim of the talk’s second part will be to understand how this support may communicate meaning. Parchment often bears material traces of the object’s production, and can sometimes also reveal relationships among several objects; this part of the talk will provide a few examples of such cases. The discussion will then go on to offer another overview, this time of parchment as a sign: rather than possessing an absolute meaning, its significance depends on its place in the range of available options in any given circumstance. These diverse contexts therefore reveal parchment’s range of meanings, as well as its particular material and interpretive consequences.
Maria Alessandra Chessa
From the nature of paper to meaning and function
Our contemporary imagery of paper’s nature is full of environmental issues: sustainability and logging, forests and recycling. These and other concerns couldn’t be more distant from the early modern ideas about paper. The presentation therefore aspires to turn the question “what is paper” into “what was paper” by historicizing the sense of such a material in its early context. Relying on an array of primary sources, the unforeseen ontology of the material of paper emerges as a dual entity. From an elitist scientific view, paper was akin to the natural world of plants. On the other hand, its production and the supply of raw material inevitably prompted common sense about how deeply paper was rooted in the human realm: this aspect endowed paper with a density of meanings. Some texts thus ascribed paper to the artificial sphere, rather than the natural one. In the intellectual effort for grasping the variety and sense of the world by gathering and classifying its elements, paper was occasionally included among the collections of artificialia. In this way paper from other cultures was not only a reflection of human diverse practices but, just like the range of natural species, it also expressed the articulation itself of the artificial world. Paper embodied in its substance more than the cultural result of the diverse ingenuities: it was their physical product as a material footprint. By consequence, paper effectively performed as a distinctive medium that combined both meaning and function as the ultimate support to human memory.
Bindings, Parchments and Papers: My Pathway to the Archaeology of the Book
My relationship with parchments, papers and, above all, bindings is rooted in and closely connected to the preservation and conservation of books and documents, an area I have been thoroughly immersed in for more than forty years. In the 1970s, when I started work at the Istituto di Patologia del Libro in Rome, restoration consisted in simply reinstating a book’s functionality, just as one might reinstate a broken utensil’s utility. The people working around me were artisanal “repairers” rather than conservators, and books were seen as cultural heritage purely for the texts they bore. Material components — parchments, papers and bindings — were of significance only insomuch as they served as supports for the texts found on them. Given that in general very little of a book’s text is found on its binding, this component was often replaced with rudimentary structures that were only required to ensure the protection of quires and provide good handling characteristics to facilitate reading. Of the original bindings, only the ornamented portion of leather covers — the decorative “text”, so to speak — was saved. Unfortunately, the remaining fragments were invariably discarded, since parts representing material culture were considered essentially worthless. As a consequence, valuable historical evidence was lost. Borne of the necessity to redress this methodological oversight, I devised a series of research projects based on the Archaeology of the Book, a specific discipline which involves the study of the materials and techniques employed in the manufacture of manuscript and printed books.
Anna Gialdini and Alessandro Silvestri
Binding and Rebinding Records in Late Medieval Sicily. A Material Approach to Administrative History
Archival bindings, especially if undecorated, have gone largely unnoticed for centuries. The way records are physically organised, however, holds fundamentals evidence for historians. In this paper, we consider the material manifestation of the changes recordkeeping underwent in Aragonese Sicily. In this context they established a complex system of books, through which the financial office of the Conservatoria regii patrimonii was able to manage a large amount of information, which was organised in different series and mobile sections. Unlike the documentary type known as ‘register’, which had a rigid physical structure, the shape and the composition of the Conservatoria books changed across the year and according to the administrative needs of the government. The innovative record-keeping system they developed, as clearly attested by the stratification of bindings, was therefore fully part of the record-making process itself. The analysis of the textual, palaeographical and material components of the records allows us to examine them in their complexity. On one hand, we were able to isolate the changes they went through over their lifespans: from individual items, they grew to units held together through quire tackets and finally to bound volumes. On the other hand, material evidence indicates that recordkeeping and bookbinding practices evolved over time. Through this exemplary case study, we wish to demonstrate how materiality and textuality come together in researching late mediaeval and early modern recordkeeping practices, and how the virtual ‘deconstruction’ of a record should invest every component.
Forgery of documents in the late Middle Ages
This paper will consider the nature of documentary forgery and its relationship to the material text. After a brief overview of the different kinds of documentary forgery practised in the later Middle Ages, I will focus on two case studies: the forgeries produced by the chronicler John Hardyng to assert English overlordship of Scotland, and the forgeries produced at Crowland Abbey to support various institutional rights and privileges. In both instances I will be interested in the ways in which forged texts were given material form; in particular, whether they were given the physical form of a document, and what signs of authentication were used (seals, script etc.). If time permits I will discuss the nature of criticism of forged documents in the Middle Ages, and the emergence of new critical methods in the fifteenth century. Overarching critical questions will include the relationship between authenticity/originality and materiality, and the position of forgeries in relation to genuine documents: should they be viewed as binary opposites or as points on a spectrum?
Book Forgeries: A Composite Fake and Egyptological Conundrum from the British Museum’s Collection
This looks at a unique item housed in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum: the composite Ancient Egyptian fake and assemblage known as EA75191. Despite its classification as a fake, the object comprises of ancient and modern elements and as a whole does not resemble any other known object, false or genuine. Using an account of similarly constructed objects of the early 20th century in Egypt, we can estimate the object’s assemblage to this era and its construction by a forger. Recognising the layers of potency and materiality of this object, drawing on sources contemporary to the period and applying visual links, my research attempts to reconstruct the how, what, and why elements of this object’s life both within and beyond the locus of the British Museum. Utilising a scientific approach to identify and examine the elements in its construction, and a more syncretic approach to the object’s interpretation, this paper seeks to demonstrate in report form how a ‘difficult’ object can open up new avenues of research.