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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Review of City of the Sharp Nosed Fishes in the NEW STATESMAN

Unearthing history

William Dalrymple

City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish: Greek lives in Roman Egypt
Peter Parsons
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 320pp, £25
ISBN 0297645889

Archaeology is a notoriously slow and painstaking science: months of careful brushing and trowelling often yield little more than a few pieces of bone, the odd rusty coin and a pile of discarded pottery. Few excavations get off to the sort of start achieved by two Oxford archaeologists, B P Grenfell and A S Hunt, when they sailed down the Nile in 1896 in search of papyrus.

Papyrus was a material up to then largely ignored by Victorian scholars, who had tended to concentrate their attentions on classical inscriptions on stone. Intending to change this, and track down a few lost fragments of classical Greek and early Christian literature, the two scholars decided to investigate the mounds in the Egyptian village of El-Bahnasa, having heard rumours that illicit antiquity dealers had been finding papyri there.

The modern village squatted on the site formerly occupied by Oxyrhynchus, which means "City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish". Of this great Greek metropolis remarkably little was left: a lithograph published in 1798 by Denon, one of the artists of the Napoleonic Survey of Egypt, showed little more than a few mounds, a single Roman column, the dome of a mosque and some palm trees. It was certainly nothing like the usual destinations of European archaeological expeditions such as the tombs of the Pharaohs, which, not long before, the Italian adventurer Belzoni had been entering with the aid of a battering ram; less still did the nondescript mounds resemble the Great Pyramids, one of whose hidden chambers had recently been penetrated by a rival British team who, with the characteristic delicacy of the Victorians abroad, achieved their results by the liberal use of dynamite. read the rest

Source: Google news sv papyri

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