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The Graeco-Egyptian State: Hellenistic Archives from Egyptian Mummies

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - GESHAEM (The Graeco-Egyptian State: Hellenistic Archives from Egyptian Mummies)

Reporting period: 2021-02-01 to 2022-07-31

The question of the extent of the involvement of native Egyptians in the formation of the Ptolemaic state is still not taken into account in studies on Hellenistic Egypt because the sources that could inform us on this subject are still largely unpublished. A corpus of administrative archives in ancient Egyptian and Greek, preserved in the Jouguet Collection of Sorbonne-University, in Paris, has been under-exploited due to the poor condition of the documents. The reason for this is that these texts were used in, and have to be extracted from, mummy decoration that is called ‘cartonnage’. In order to make this material accessible to the historian, major restoration work has to be carried out, which is the first objective of GESHAEM, The Graeco-Egyptian State: Hellenistic Archives from Egyptian Mummies. Moreover, because the texts had been cut up when they were reused to make the cartonnage, they consist of a myriad of fragments that have to be reassembled. A second objective of the project is therefore to create a software that will automatically make joins in the fragments and thus help the papyrologist reconstruct the texts. Once the fragments are restored and reassembled, they can be read, published and studied, with the objective of re-evaluating our view of the Ptolemaic administration in the 3rd century BCE. The originality of GESHAEM is also to pay attention, for the first time, to the decoration of the cartonnage and to make the first stylistic study of this which has hitherto been neglected in the field of art history.
The first part of GESHAEM focused on the restoration of the texts, often very fragmentary, but also on the restoration of pieces of cartonnage. This work has been carefully recorded in reports published on the project website. New papyri have been extracted and photographed according to the protocol defined for the development of the software for joining fragments. A siamese neural network model, called Papy-S-Net, extracts features from fragments and classifies them according to their belonging to the same papyrus. The implementation of this model is not dedicated to be used directly by a papyrologist. It needs to be included in a Human-Machine-Interface. A prototype of this HMI, ORIO, is currently being developed. The objective is to help papyrologists manipulate the images of fragments and test the joins suggested by Papy-S-Net. Concerning the new papyri extracted in the project, the search for new administrative archives has not yet yielded the expected results, but the new fragments are similar to the texts already inventoried (mainly petitions, accounts and tax registers) which points to administrative archives. Work on the corpus of bilingual surety contracts progressed through the addition of more than a hundred new texts to those already edited.
GESHAEM is the first project, in the field of papyrology, which attempts to develop a software for connecting papyrus fragments. The results obtained so far point to a programme that will eventually facilitate the manipulation of the fragments and propose joins which, even if they are not correct, will save papyrologists considerable time as they will not need to inspect the originals, which requires on-site access and which cannot be carried out with a large body of fragments. The gain will therefore be immense. GESHAEM also advances science as it provides new sources that will shed light on the Ptolemaic administration, and in particular on the role of Egyptians in the formation of the state. The publication of unpublished documents in Greek and demotic will provide historians with new data and, for the first time, a stylistic study of mummy cartonnage from the Ptolemaic period will be published. Finally, in terms of heritage, the ancient material restored within GESHAEM will soon be accessible to the general public and exhibited in all its richness.
Inv. Sorb. 1385v © Sorbonne Université – Institut de Papyrologie