Hearst Egyptian Papyri Finally Arrive in Berkeley

November 1, 2006

On November 1, 2006, the Bancroft Library, the Center for Tebtunis Papyri, Classics, and AHMA combined to celebrate a momentous event: the return from Boston of a number of papyri originally discovered between 1900 and 1904 in Egypt by George Andrew Reisner, excavating under the auspices of Phoebe Apperson Hearst.  By a strange set of accidents and misunderstandings, these papyri (including four second-millennium BCE pieces written in hieratic Egyptian script) were mistakenly accessioned by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  Shortly after the founding of the Center for Tebtunis Papyri in 2001, our papyrologist, Assistant Professor Todd Hickey, discovered documents in the Berkeley archives that pointed to Berkeley ownership of these materials. In 2003 Donald Mastronarde, as CTP Director, wrote to the MFA (but received no response).  Real progress was made when, while visiting and teaching at Harvard in the spring semester 2006, he went in person to the MFA and opened up negotiations with MFA Curator Lawrence Berman, whom he found “extremely cooperative.”  The end result of the careful research and skilled diplomacy of our dynamic duo Hickey and Mastronarde was the recent repatriation from Boston of all the papyrus finds from the excavations funded by Phoebe Hearst. Also speaking at the Nov. 1st event, in addition to Todd Hickey and Donald Mastronarde, were Professor Candy Keller of the Near Eastern Studies Department and AHMA graduate student Elisabeth O’Connell.

These Hearst Expedition papyri form a remarkable collection of material, ranging from late third-millennium BCE documents, to second-millenium official accounts of forced-labor contingents and what they were fed, to late antique Coptic pieces, and add significantly greater temporal and thematic range to the papyri owned by Berkeley.

For more details of the exciting detective story behind the repatriation of the papyri, see the news item and full remarks from the November 1 event at the CTP Website.