The Finding of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri between Myth and Reality

5-6pm (UK) / 7-8pm (Egypt)

Dr Roberta Mazza, copyright Kathryn PiquetteDr Roberta Mazza at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology, UCL, London (Copyright Kathryn Piquette)

This talk will consider how the British forefathers of papyrology have disseminated information about their discoveries in Egypt to the public in the late 19th century. It will be shown that when read in the light of more private letters and accounts, these official stories reveal patterns and tropes, while details that we find important today were left out. Were the Oxyrhynchus papyri really discovered by Grenfell and Hunt? This paper argues that they were already well known to the Egyptian inhabitants of the nearby town of el-Bahnasa.

Roberta Mazza is a papyrologist and lecturer in Graeco-Roman material culture at the Department of Classics, Ancient History, Archaeology and Egyptology of the University of Manchester. She has worked on late antiquity and Christianity in Egypt and has published papyri from the John Rylands collection; her recent research and publications focus on the ethics of public and private collecting of Egyptian manuscripts and the academics’ involvement with the antiquities market. Most recently, she has published a book chapter on papyrology and the Museum of the Bible (‘The Green Papyri and the Museum of the Bible’, in: J. Hicks- Keaton, C. Concannon (eds.) The Museum of the Bible: A Critical Introduction. 2019) and has intervened publicly on the issues surrounding the institution in her blog ( and in various online magazines (e.g., Hyperallergic and Eidolon). Her research on these topics has been covered by The Guardian, The Times, The Atlantic and The Wall Street Journal. 

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