Spring 2016

Materializing Ancient Documents

Roger Shaler Bagnall

Two materially oriented revolutions have transformed the study of ancient documents in recent decades: first, a new interest in the ancient production of written artifacts; and second, the concern with the archaeological contexts, and more particularly the taphonomy–that is, the processes at work in the burial–of those same objects. The first, largely driven by the availability of digital images, has given life to the study of ancient writing as a cultural and social phenomenon and to the social life of written objects. In the process, connections between literary and documentary texts have come to the fore and distinctions between these categories have eroded. The second revolution began with an interest in what archaeological contexts of excavated papyri could tell us about the history of the texts, but it has evolved to see the texts themselves as artifacts engaged in an iterative dialogue with both the contexts and other objects found in them.

ROGER S. BAGNALL, a Fellow of the American Academy since 2000, is the Leon Levy Director and Professor of Ancient History at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. He is also Director of the Amheida Project. His many publications include Early Christian Books in Egypt (2009), Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East (2011), and A Sixth Century Tax Register from the Hermopolite Nome (with James G. Keenan and Leslie MacCoull, 2011).

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