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Arabic Papyri – Chances for Future Research

The aim of this project is to contribute to the chances of future research on Arabic papyri worldwide. With this tandem project, the Egyptologist and Papyrus expert Verena Lepper (Berlin) and the Arabic Philology Expert Bilal Orfali (Beirut) focus on accessing ancient Arabic papyri for future research.

Arabic papyri are highly neglected in international scholarship. The reason for this is that most of the objects are not accessible. They are stored away in Egypt for example in the Museum of Islamic Art and  in the National Library or in individual collections in America (Ann Arbor) or Europe (Vienna, Berlin). The aim of this project is to contribute to the possibilities of future research on Arabic papyri around the world. In this study, Arabic papyri are digitized and made available to the academic community and the general public for future research.

Papyrology is a wide field of studies, comprising a large variety of scripts and languages used or spoken in Ancient Egypt, from hieroglyphics, hieratic,demotic,, Aramaic, Greek, Latin and Coptic, all the way through to Arabic, which was the last language written on papyri. The papyri are kept in a variety of institutions in Egypt, Europe and the US. The Papyrussammlung of the Ägyptisches Museum Berlin is home to more than 1,000 Arabic papyri, of which only a small part has been deciphered and published.

As a feasibility study, this project is making these papyri accessible to the academic community and the global public. These efforts seek to enable a better understanding of the beginnings of Islam in Egypt and the culture and history of the first centuries of Islamic Egypt. The field of Arabic papyrology is very small. In March 2018, the seventh International Society for Arabic Papyrology Conference was held in Berlin, organised by the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, the Humboldt Universität, the Freie Universität Berlin and the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. As a result of this congress, it became clear that there is a strong need for the digitization of Arabic papyri around the world. Following this call, in collaboration with several partners, the research team of Prof Orfali and Prof Lepper conducted this project aimed at digitizing the Berlin papyri.

The team collaborated with the Ministry of Antiquities in Egypt (Ahmed Kamal, head of the department of Arabic papyri) in order to discuss documentation standards. The international centres of Arabic papyrology (Leiden, Munich and Paris) were also involved. In addition, digitization has been made a central element of all contemporary work on papyri. To this end, the expertise from the field of the digital humanities has been an important component of the project.


Project leadership: Prof. Dr. Verena Lepper (Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection) & Prof. Dr. Bilal Orfali, Sheikh Zayed Chair of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the American University of Beirut
Project collaborators: Dr. Ahmed Kamal, Sebastian Metz
Funding: Arab-German Young Academy and Sciences and Humanities (AGYA) (www.agya.info)
Further information: American University of Beirut
Project duration: 2018 to 2022