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Are Ancient Egyptian scrolls under threat from online auctions?

Experts fear that ancient papyrus scrolls which are being auctioned off online for huge sums will be ruined

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Experts fear that ancient papyrus scrolls which are being auctioned off online for huge sums will be ruined due to a lack of proper care by private collectors.

The scrolls, some dating back to the 3rd century, are being auctioned off on eBay to private collectors and although the sales are lawful, scholars fear that some buyers will sell the scrolls on or fail to properly take care of them.

The UK’s Daily Mail highlighted one sale in which a five inch rectangular piece of paper featuring 15 lines of Homer’s “The Iliad,” noted down by an Egyptian scribe in the 4th century, sold online for $24,915.

Papyrologist and lecturer in New Testament and Early Christianity at the U.S.’s Concordia University Brice Jones told the Sunday Telegraph that private collectors were harming the ancient manuscripts.

“The study of ancient papyri is a fascinating field of historical inquiry, because these artifacts are the fingerprints of real people from a bygone era,” he said.

“Each time I study a new papyrus, it is as if I am peeking over the shoulders of the scribe who wrote it, eavesdropping on a conversation that in many cases was meant to be private: an argument between a husband and wife, a divorce contract, an invitation to dinner, a letter between a father and son.

“But when private collectors acquire papyri for personal enjoyment and restrict scholarly access to them, the immediate consequence is that we lose valuable historical information that would otherwise advance our knowledge about ancient people.”
Jones recalled an example in which the papyrus codex of the Gospel of Judas was stored in safety deposit box and then placed in a freezer by the private collector.

“The results of these decisions were horrifying: the codex crumbled into many hundreds of tiny pieces and what was once a virtually complete codex was now badly deteriorated and difficult to restore,” Jones noted.

An eBay spokesman retorted that sellers on the website “must ensure listings comply with our clear policy on artifacts. We work with regulators, law enforcement and other parties including the Egyptian Embassy to apply this policy, and if a listing of concern is identified we will require proof that it was legally exported and remove any listing where this proof is not provided,” according to the Sunday Telegraph.

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