Rubensohn Library of Elephantine: 4000 years of Ancient Egyptian history on papyri now online

Neues Museum

The Rubensohn Library is a new online resource for researchers provided by the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin's Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection. Some 800 documents in all have been restored, conserved, and evaluated as part of a two-year-long research project. They are accessible in the form of an open-access online database.

The Rubensohn Library contains written documents from Elephantine, the island in the Nile, which is located close to modern-day Aswan on Egypt's southern border. The 626 Papyri, 235 ostraca, 5 wood panels, 4 palm ribs, and other objects were discovered in excavations undertaken on the Nile island by the archaeologist Otto Rubensohn and the papyrologist Friedrich Zucker in a research expedition commissioned by the Royal Berlin Museums in the years 1906 to 1908. The objects cover a timespan of about 4000 years and have survived in different languages and scripts (including Hieratic, Demotic, Aramaic, Greek, and Coptic). The online database makes the texts easier to research by offering detailed information on their origin, material, condition, script, language, etc., as well as their content through keyword tagging and digital facsimiles of each document.

The project was jointly funded by the Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media and the Mayor of Berlin. It was headed by Verena Lepper, curator of Egyptian and oriental papyri at the SMB's Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection. Alongside holdings in the Louvre, Brooklyn Museum, and Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the Berlin collection is home to the largest collection of papyri from Elephantine in the world. For her follow-up project, 'Localizing 4000 Years of Cultural History: Texts and Scripts from Elephantine Island in Egypt', Lepper recently won a Starting Grant from the European Research Council. This means that she now has €1.5 million at her disposal for the next five years to continue researching the history of Elephantine.