ERC Project ELEPHANTINE: Localizing 4000 Years of Cultural History. Texts and Scripts from Elephantine Island in Egypt

The Egyptologist and scholar of Oriental Studies Prof. Dr. Verena Lepper has received one of the most important awards in the academic world, the ERC Starting Grant from the European Research Council. She has been awarded a total of 1.5 million euros to finance her research project “Localizing 4000 Years of Cultural History: Texts and Scripts from Elephantine Island in Egypt”. Thanks to this grant, a total of 10 new employees will be able to carry out research on the topic of Elephantine in the Papyrus Collection of the Ägyptisches Museum, which houses one of the biggest papyrus collections from Elephantine in the world next to the Louvre in Paris, the Brooklyn Museum in New York and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

The objective of this project is to write a 4000-year cultural history of Elephantine Island in Egypt. An important island in terms of military strategy, Elephantine is located in the Nile on Egypt’s southern border. No other settlement in Egypt has been so well documented over such a long period. Its inhabitants comprise a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious community, which has left behind large amounts of written material, which provides evidence of everyday life from the Old Kingdom right up to the era following the Arab conquest. Today, several thousand papyri and other manuscripts from Elephantine are spread throughout more than 60 institutions right across Europe and beyond. Their texts are written in various languages and scripts, including hieroglyphs, hieratic, demotic, Aramaic, Greek, Coptic and Arabic. 80% of these manuscripts are yet to be published and investigated. The great challenge of this project is to process this material so as to tackle three key topics:

  1. Multiculturalism and identity between assimilation and segregation,
  2. the organization of family and society,
  3. the development of the religions (polytheism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam).

The texts will be made accessible in an online database. This will allow the identification of connections between papyrus fragments from different collections. Through international cooperation, the “papyrus puzzle” can thus be solved – also with the help of cutting-edge new methods from the digital humanities, physics or even mathematics (e.g. for the virtual unfolding of papyri). Through the use of this database, with its medical, religious, legal, administrative and even literary texts, researchers will be able to study the microhistory of everyday life of the local and global (‘glocal’) community of Elephantine, in the context of its sociocultural Egyptian background and beyond. This will be coupled with macro-historical topics, for which the newest methods of global history will also be used. In this way, Elephantine can be employed as a case study and model for the past, present and future.

Project director: Prof. Dr. Verena Lepper (Principal Investigator, Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung) (Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection)
Project staff: Sandro Schwarz, PD Dr. Jan Moje, Dr. Lisa Cleath, Martina Grünhagen, Dr. James Moore, Dr. Ruth Duttenhöfer, Dr. Andrea Haznos, Felix Herter, Dr. Daniela Härtel, Dr. Ahmed Kamal
Scholarship holders: Prof. Dr. Heinz-Eberhard Mahnke, Prof. Dr. Mohammad Abdelatif, PD Dr. Philip Schmitz
Conservators: Tzulia Siopi/Angos (Restoration: Papyri), Nina Loschwitz (Restoration: Ceramics/Ostraca)
Office: Holger Niederhausen, Claudia Cliff
Student Assistants: Zoltan Takasz, Luisa Gerlach
Project website:
Funding: European Research Council  (ERC)
Duration: 2015 until 2022