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vrijdag 9 november 2007

Discovery of unique papyrus codex

The Gallo-Roman Museum in Tongeren has discovered in its collection the most complete book made of papyrus of North-Western Europe. It is a unique piece because it dates from the 10th century, during which time papyrus had been replaced by parchment (even in Egypt it wasn't used anymore).

The book had already been found in the 1930s together with fragments of Roman wood and leather. Because the item didn't look all that special and wasn't numbered (and thus not a part of an inventory) it stayed there until last year. Staff of the museum thought that it looked like papyrus, but they didn't think that was very likely since papyrus has hardly been preserved in Europe. Research done by an expert on the matter, professor Clarysse of the Catholic University of Louvain, confirmed their suspicions.

Given the importance of the find, preliminary investigations were done by the Royal Institute for the Study and Conservation of Belgium's Artistic Heritage, KIK-IRPA. At first it was thought the artefact stemmed from the Roman period. The KIK-IRPA however dated it between 880 and 990 AD. Further research is now needed to determine the contents of the book. The leaflets have been compressed through time to almost a solid block. The painstaking task of pealing them off must be undertaken. Apparently only one page can be "freed" per day.

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