Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


ELEPHANTINE Report Summary

Project ID: 637692
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ELEPHANTINE (Localizing 4000 Years of Cultural History. Texts and Scripts from Elephantine Island in Egypt)

Reporting period: 2015-07-01 to 2016-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The aim of this project is to write a cultural history of 4000 years, localized on Elephantine Island in Egypt. Elephantine was a militarily and strategically very important island in the river Nile on the southern border of Egypt. No other settlement in Egypt is so well attested over such a long period of time. Its inhabitants form a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious community that left us vast amounts of written sources detailing their everyday lives from the Old Kingdom to beyond the Arab Conquest. Today, several thousand papyri and other manuscripts from Elephantine are scattered in more than 60 institutions across Europe and beyond. Their texts are written in different languages and scripts, including Hieroglyphs, Hieratic, Demotic, Aramaic, Greek, Coptic and Arabic. 80% of these manuscripts are still unpublished and unstudied. The great challenge of this project is to use this material to answer three key questions covering:
1) Multiculturalism and identity between assimilation and segregation,
2) Organization of family and society,
3) Development of religions (Polytheism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam).
Thus, access needs to be gained to these texts, making them publicly available in an open access online database. Links are to be identified between papyrus fragments from different collections and an international ‘papyrus puzzle’ will be undertaken, incorporating cutting-edge methods from digital humanities, physics and mathematics (e.g. for the virtual unfolding of papyri). Using this database with medical, religious, legal, administrative, even literary texts, the micro-history of the everyday life of the local and global (i.e. ‘glocal’) community of Elephantine will be studied within its socio-cultural setting in Egypt and beyond. It will be linked back to macro-historical questions and benefit from newly-introduced methodologies of global history: Elephantine can thus be used as a case study and a model for the past, present and future.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

On July 1, 2015 the project started as planned. All members of staff could be recruited and hired in time, so that the project could begin. A research fellow for Digital Humanities (Schwarz), for Demotic (Moje), and a conservator (Siopi) could be hired. Together with the new research fellows the PI selected then two qualified student assistants (Takasz, Gerlach). They started in November 2015. The second phase of recruitment also worked out as planned: On July 1, 2016 the research fellows for Hieratic (Grünhagen) and Aramaic (Cleath) were hired.

The first aim was to create together the ERC-database with 100 research fields, which was achieved in constant team discussions quite effectively. A thorough bibliographic research was undertaken at the same time. 40 museums and institutions in 20 different countries were contacted and the first results included in our database. First Papyrus joins could thus be identified. Methods for the virtual unfolding of the papyri have also started to be developed in cooperation with the Zuse Institute and the Helmholz Zentrum Berlin. 3-D Imaging techniques for ostraca have also been developed.

Intense discussions about concrete measures of cooperation started with the relevant major collections and institutions. The PI visited the collections in Paris, New York and Rome and could gain access to all relevant materials and objects. Also the visit in Cairo at the Ministry of Antiquities was carefully prepared for January 2017.

The new ERC-database was filled with 4300 relevant objects, all this in accordance with the XML-Standard of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). For the official opening event of the Project the founder of TEI Michael Sperberg McQueen visited the team and gave the respective key note speech. For the future encoding of the texts the XML-Editor oXygen was developed and changed for our concrete project needs. So the first text encodings started and help to further develop the editor.

The PI held regular meetings within the team, in addition some 12 Elephantine Salons and 6 interdisciplinary workshops with local and international guests were conducted. The PI also co-organized two workshop meetings with another ERC-grantee (Popovic) in the Netherlands.

The project conservator (Siopi) could isolate and restore some 1750 new papyrus fragments from the Elephantine boxes in Berlin. We implemented a special grid system how best to handle and document the many papyrus fragments in the collections. This system is now used also by our colleagues in Paris and New York.

The PI spent 5 weeks at the collection in New York and was supported there by the project conservator (Siopi). The PI could study there some 1000 Hieratic Elephantine Fragments. Siopi could unroll two larger papyrus scrolls with the help of the local colleagues.

In Rome the PI could find and identify the supposedly lost Elephantine excavation archive and received permission for publication. This greatly helps us to locate the findings of the Vatican excavations in 1918.

The PI was invited to give more than 20 papers and lectures about the ERC-project, both nationally and internationally (including the Library of Congress and the UNESCO). The research fellows of the project also started to attend international conferences.

The PI also helped the National Contact Point for the ERC in Germany in their trainings for future candidates (witness reports, women in the EU etc.) and attended ERC networking events in Germany. Here the PI presented the project also to the ERC-President.

There was quite an intense media coverage to our surprise. Nationally and internationally more than a dozen articles appeared about the ERC-Project and the PI.

(see Progress/Potential impact)

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

"Within the Project we collected for the first time papyri from Elephantine island in ten different languages and scripts from all over the world. Joins between papyrus fragments could be identified. Methods for the virtual unfolding of the papyri have also started to be developed.
We are the first Egyptological project using the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) for the encoding of texts, and the feasibility study (with 1000 objects) is online already:
As a lot of foreigners lived on Elephantine island, the aspect of migration in Ancient Egypt was tackled. The project is based in Germany, where migration is currently a central issue, and thus interesting dimensions opened for the project:

The expected potential impact was reflected by the national and international media.
Also invitations to speak at renowned research institutions (Harvard, Princeton, Library of Congress, Collège de France, La Sapienza etc.) and Science Policy Institutions (UNESCO) demonstrate this. In addition the PI organized several workshops and Elephantine Salons with external speakers

Media Reaction about the PI and the ERC-Project

Bonn, Oxford, Harvard – Wo sind die Vorbilder für junge Frauen? Inge Kloepfer empfiehlt in unserer neuen Serie eine kluge Ägyptologin. Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, 01.02.2015, S. 18.

"Über Texte sprechen die Ägypter zu uns - durch Poesie oder Verträge". taz, 02.07.2016.!5315074/

Von Aachen über Harvard nach Berlin: Ägyptologin Verena Lepper. [Hermann-Josef Delonge]. Aachener Zeitung, 14.03.2015.

Die Antike dekodieren. MUSEUM, Beilage zum Tagesspiegel, S. 4-5 [März 2016?].

X-Rays Reveal the Secrets of Egyptian Scrolls. [Megan Gannon]. Newsweek, 17.01.2016.

Wie puzzeln Sie Elephantine zusammen, Frau Lepper? SPK Magazin, Ausgabe 1/2015, S. 14-15 [Juni 2015?].

Die Juden hatten einen zweiten Tempel – im Nil. [Berthold Seewald]., 20.05.2015.

Das Elephantine-Gedächtnis. Porträt der Ägyptologin Verena Lepper. Tagesspiegel, 02.03.2015.

Tausende antike Geheimnisse werden entschlüsselt. [Berthold Seewald]., 30.01.2015.

Von der Rolle. [Berthold Seewald]., 25.01.2015.

Beispiele für erfolgreiche deutsche ERC-Grantees in den Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaften. NKS WSG

ERC-Porträt: Prof. Dr. Verena Lepper und Tania Lipowski. EU-Büro BMBF

Ringvorlesung: Ägyptologie und Informatik: Virtuelles Entfalten von Papyri? ZUSE-Zentrum, 14.06.2016.

Was macht eigentlich … Verena Lepper, Kuratorin am Ägyptischen Museum und Papyrussammlung. SMB Blog, 18.10.2016.

Lectures given by the PI

2016 UNESCO, Paris, Panelist at the Discussion Round: „Research according to Leibniz“, Une nuit de la philosophie (invited panelist)

2016 Harvard in Germany, Berlin. Discussion evening with Drew Faust, President of Harvard University, Introduction about “Migration in Ancient Egypt and Today”.

2016 FU/HU/SMB, Neue Forschungen zur Ägyptischen Kultur und Geschichte, Berlin. Vortrag: “Archäologie” im Museum. Neue Papyri aus Elephantine.

2016 Unitas Berlin, Vereinsfest zu Ehren der Hl. Maria Immaculata, Festvortrag „Ein Blick in die Vergangenheit: Migration im Alten Ägypten - Lessons to learn…“ (keynote lecture)

2016 Rotary Club Berlin Kurfürstendamm, Vortrag: „Die Antike Decodieren. Papyri von der Nilinsel Elephantine” (key note lecture)

2016 University Groningen. Workshop organized by Prof. Mladen Popovic: „Qumran and Elephantine“, lecture: „Texts and Scripts from Elephantine Island in Egypt“.

2016 16. GAIN-Jahrestagung, Washington D.C., „Europäische Forschungsförderung ERC“ (two lectures about the ELEPHANTINE Project)

2016 Mainzer Akademie der Wissenschaften, Ägyptologische „Binsen“-Weisheiten III. Formen und Funktionen von Edition und Paläographie altägyptischer Kursivschriften, “Hieratic Papyri and Ostraca from Elephantine. Perspectives and Visions” (invited lecture)

2016 Forschungsworkshop des SPK-Präsidenten: Analoge und digitale Objektvernetzung Kurzvortrag: „Das materielle Gedächtnis von Elephantine. Chancen einer internationalen digitalen Objektvernetzung”, Panelist: Mobilität in einer analogen und digitalen Welt.

2016 Opening Event of the ERC-Grant Project „Localizing 4000 Years of Cultural History. Texts and Scripts from Elephantine Island in Egypt“, Neues Museum Berlin (opening speech)

2016 Global Young Academy & Utrecht University, Conference: Bridging Worlds Through Science“, Lecture: “Bridging Worlds in Antiquity” (invited lecture)

2016 Zuse Institut Berlin & Freie Universität Berlin, Ringvorlesung: 75 Jahre Zuse in Berlin: Vortrag „Ägyptologie und Informatik. Virtuelles Entfalten von Papyri?“

2016 Library of Congress, Washington/USA: “Virtual reading of papyri within the Elephantine Project” (invited lecture with Eberhard Mahnke)

2016 ARCE & New York University (ISAW), “The World of Egypt's Elephantine Island: Recent Discoveries and New Approaches” (invited evening lecture)

2016 Princeton University, Program of the Ancient World, “Opening the Boxes ... New Elephantine Papyri from Four Millennia” (invited lecture)

2016 Harvard University, NELC, The heritage of Elephantine Island – Hidden treasures of a multicultural community in Egypt” (invited lecture)

2016 La Sapienza, Rom, “My god – your god – our gods. Local practices of religion in Ancient Egypt.” Conference in honor of S. Donadoni, The gods of the others, the gods and the others

2016 BMBF Kontaktstelle Frauen in der Forschung & Hum¬boldt-Universität zu Berlin. “Neugier trifft Know-how. Erfahrungsaustausch für Wissenschaftlerinnen zu Horizon 2020 Gesprächsrunde “EU-erfahrene Wissenschaftlerinnen“ (invited presentaion and round table )

2015 Leibniz Gemeinschaft, Berlin, 21st Annual Conference, “Diversität und Chancen im Alten Ägypten und Heute”, invited keynote lecture at the Opening Ceremony (Festvortrag)

2015 Collège de France & Sorbonne, “Old Kingdom Papyri from Elephantine”, Table ronde sur les archives administratives de l'Ancien Empire. Etat de la question. (invited lecture)

2015 Xth International Congress of Egyptologists, Florence, “Localizing 4000 Years of Cultural History” (invited lecture)

2015 International and Interdisciplinary Conference: Arab-German Research Cooperation: New Chances and Challenges in International Academia”, Zayed-University, Abu Dhabi (BMBF/AGYA), “Translating Heritage in Transnational Contexts” (invited panelist)

2015 Franco-German Summer School ManuScience. From Fragments to Books. Identification & Interpretation,”New Texts and Scripts from Elephantine Island“, Frauenchiemsee (read, invited lecture)

2015 Verein der Freunde des Ägyptischen Museums Berlin e.V., “Papyrusfragmente und ihre Bedeutung“. Vortrag vom 17.03.2015 (Key note lecture)

2015 Forschungsworkshop des SPK-Präsidenten, “Localizing 4000 Years of Cultural History. Texts and Scripts from Elephantine Island”, Berlin

2015 BMBF, Bonn, Treffen der ERC-Grantees Deutschlands: Vortrag: 4000 Jahre Kulturgeschichte auf Elephantine”

2015 BMBF/Kowi, Bonn, ERC-Workshop: Training for the ERC-Interview. “ERC experiences” (invited keynote lecture)"

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