Discovery: Who Found These Texts? Trexler Library | Muhlenberg College

In the later 19th century, Egypt came under British influence although formally still part of the Ottoman Empire.  British archaeologists began to scout Egypt for likely excavations.  In 1896 Bernard Pyne Grenfell (1869-1926) and Arthur Surridge Hunt (1871-1934) began to excavate outside El-Bahnasa, originally not thought to be a promising site.

bernard pyne grenfell
Fig. 8. Emery Walker PLC. Bernard Pyne Grenfell. 13 October 2008.

arthur surrideg hunt
Fig. 9. James Russell and Sons. Arthur Surridge Hunt.13 October 2008.

They found thousands and thousands of documents, and spent the winters of 1896-1897 and 1903-1904 to 1906-1907 directing the digging by dozens of Egyptian workers.  They partially cleaned the papyri and packed them for shipment to their base at Queen’s College, Oxford, where they prepared multiple volumes of their scholarly edition,The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, and contributed to the beginnings of the discipline of papyrology.  Preparing the papyri meant cleaning them, encasing them in air-tight glass, identifying fragments which belonged together, and deciphering the handwriting.

Grenfell’s and Hunt’s work was supported by the Egypt Exploration Fund (now Egypt Exploration Society), a fund sustained by individual and corporate contributors. Beginning in 1900, these contributors began receiving pieces of Oxyrhynchus papyri, in proportion to their contribution. Thousands of papyri were distributed to scholars around the world, and contributed to major collections in London, Berlin, Paris, New York, Princeton, Chicago, Ann Arbor, and elsewhere.

One of the recipients of such dispersed papyri was Robert Chisolm Horn (1878-1963), Muhlenberg Class of 1900, who went on to earn his Ph.D. in ancient history and papyrology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1926.  He spent his 47 year career at Muhlenberg, serving as Professor of Greek Language and Literature, Dean of the College, vice President, and acting President. Throughout his career Horn maintained an intense interest in ancient studies, the classics, and papyrology. In 1915, the Egyptian Exploration Fund sent Professor Horn, and Muhlenberg College, the thirty-six pieces of papyri that today make up The Robert C. Horn Papyri Collection.

robert horn
Fig. 10. Robert C. Horn. Ciarla (Muhlenberg College) 1933.


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