Wednesday 29 January 2014

No-Questions-Asking UK Academic Reads a Freshly-Uncovered Ripped-up Papyrus from Unknown Source

Classicist scholars are getting excited about a bit of ripped-up papyrus belonging to an "anonymous collector" and bought on the antiquities black market. Because of that nobody knows where and with what the papyrus was found. The papyrus:
probably came from Egypt and perhaps from Oxyrynchus, but its provenance may never be known. A thriving black market for papyri means that many of them emerge not from archaeological digs but from souks, bazaars and antiquities shops. [...]  the owner of an ancient papyrus, dating to the 3rd century A.D., consulted an Oxford classicist, Dirk Obbink, about the Greek writing on the tattered scrap. Dr. Obbink [...]  quickly realized the importance of what the papyrus contained and asked its owner for permission to publish it. His article, which includes a transcription of the fragmentary poems, will appear in a scholarly journal this spring, but an on-line version has already been released.
There is nothing, not a word, in the draft article for Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik to indicate that the author (from Christ Church College) thought for a moment about when and how the item he is discussing left the source country, let alone anything (not a single word) to indicate that it has been out of the ground and out of the source country any length of time. Indeed, quite the opposite, the author describes (page 2 of his text) it as "a newly uncovered papyrus".  Dr Obbink notes that the fragment he discusses was in the same handwriting as something called "P. GC. inv. 105", but what that piece of papyrological jargon means for the context of discovery I could not say. The scholar reckons it is the sixth poem to be found from the output of Sappho. The collector is unnamed, but his purchase of a ripped up bit of history has just increased in financial value many-fold by virtue of Dr Obbink's publication and publicity. I am sure he beamed broadly as he warmly shook the academic's hand when he got "his" ripped up bit of papyrus back. Now Dr Obbink, wash your hands.

I do not know what Code of Ethics Oxford papyrologists (or University of Oxford academics or Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik) work to. I do hope though that if Dr Obbink in his Oxford college study was asked to look after some laptops on behalf of a bloke he met in the pub, and came to realise they had been "freshly" stolen from the computer shop down the road, that he'd not just hand them back to the bloke, but he'd take them to the police. Remember the principled stand of Michael Müller-Karpe (here, here, here, here, but see also here)? Would Oxford University turn a blind eye to 'Antikenhehlerei' if it produces good stuff for its scholars to write about? Would they allow handling of potentially stolen goods on the premises?

Note how the piece illustrated above has been ripped into a square shape. Quite a lot of freshly-surfaced papyri are treated in this manner by the trade, they then go into frames which can then hang on a den wall, to make it look like a person of culture lives there -  instead of a no-questions-asking looter-financing Philistine.

Source: James Romm, 'Scholars Discover New Poems from Ancient Greek Poetess Sappho', Daily Beast 28th January 2014.

Vignette: Stock photo of decoratively-ripped collectable parchment fragment (Archaeology News Network, after Greek Reporter)

UPDATE 6th February 2014
It seems some Classicists have problems reading plain English:  A Reply to "Rosemary85" who Knows More About Papyrology than me. Note that this text is referring to one of the earlier accounts of the discovery, and was written before the TLS text which seems to shed light on some of the issues raised.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.