Monday, January 31, 2011

Damage reported at Giza Pyramids, Looters turned back at Karnak – Dr. Gerry Scott, ARCE director, provides an update from Cairo

Dr. Scott said that antiquities at Giza have been damaged and a team working there
had some of their equipment stolen. The archaeologists are waiting for the
SCA to arrive and assess the situation. It is unclear exactly what archaeological
remains have been damaged at this point. Photo by Sigurd Gartmann CC attribution share-alike
2.0 generic

This morning Dr. Gerry Scott gave an update from Cairo on how the crisis is affecting Egypt’s antiquities, sharing what new information he had.
Dr. Scott is director of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), an organization that supports nearly two dozen projects throughout the country and aims to help conserve Egypt’s antiquities. Its work has attracted numerous grants including funding from USAID.
The past few days have seen mass protests, with Egyptian citizens demanding that President Hosni Mubarak, a man who has led the country for nearly 30 years, step down. He has responded by sacking his cabinet and naming new ministers. Among those named is Dr. Zahi Hawass, the secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), who takes on a new cabinet post dedicated to Egypt’s archaeological heritage.
Scott is in Cairo and has been telephoning project directors and archaeologists – collecting information and helping those who want to leave the country get out. His efforts have been hindered by the government’s decision to shut down internet access and cell phone service. Also, with the turmoil outside, he has been forced to work from his apartment.
He said that a number of archaeology teams are choosing to leave, including those at the Dakhleh Oasis and at the Temple of Mut in Luxor.
Dr. Scott has both good and bad news.
The bad news is that there is antiquities damage at the Giza Pyramids. Mark Lehner and his team are currently working there.
“I’ve heard that the team lost some equipment and that there was some damage to the antiquities but I do not know the extent of that at this point,” he said. He also does not know what exactly was damaged. The Egyptian army is now guarding the pyramids and access has been restricted.
Lehner’s team has halted their work for the time being. “The latest I’ve heard is that they are not working until the SCA has had a chance to record what’s happened there.”
One piece of good news is that looters attempted to enter Karnak temple last night but were turned back by local citizens.
“Apparently there was an attempt for some people to get into Karnak temple last night and loot – the local people came to the defence of the site and some of the men were apprehended by local citizens,” he said.
He also said that ARCE’s conservation work at Luxor continues on. Among the projects they are involved with is a ground water lowering project which prevents Luxor and Karnak temple from being partially flooded, it takes out nearly 30,000 cubic meters of water a day. “To the best of my knowledge it’s still operational,” said Scott. In addition scholars from the University of Chicago are continuing their epigraphic work at the site.
He also said that the SCA is still operational, at least in some areas of the country. “In Luxor I’m told the SCA is up and functioning, also in Abydos I’m hearing, it really kinds of depends on the site."
With the council still in operation at Abydos, Scott said that archaeological teams have decided to continue work there.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

News from Cairo – ARCE Director Dr. Gerry Scott talks about the crisis and Egypt’s Antiquities

Khonsu Temple in Luxor is located on the west bank. Supreme
Council of Antiquities staff said it is ok to work on that side of the Nile
for today. Photo by Olaf Tausch, courtesy wikimedia.

This morning Dr. Gerry Scott, director of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), gave a telephone interview from Cairo itself.
He gave what information he had on how the crisis in Egypt is affecting its antiquities. ARCE supports nearly two dozen active projects in Egypt. Its mission focuses on conserving Egypt’s cultural heritage and has attracted numerous grants – including funding from USAID.
Over the past few days Egypt has been become embroiled in protests and unrest. The news has been changing by the hour and last night President Hosni Mubarak, a man who has led Egypt for nearly 30 years, ordered his cabinet to resign. The government has cut off internet access and cell phone service has been curtailed.
Dr. Scott said that for now ARCE intends to keeps its staff in the country. “At the moment, yes, we will stay and wait (and see) how things develop in terms of whether we can function or not,” he said.
Scott has been stuck in his apartment over the Egyptian weekend (Friday and Saturday) and has had only limited communication through a landline. He started the interview by praising the protesters who held hands to protect the Egyptian Museum.
“Everybody in the Egyptological community, I think, has been very heartened by the fact that the demonstrators sort of linked hands last night when they thought that the Egyptian Museum was in danger.”
They “made it clear that the Egyptian Museum was a place where Egypt’s treasures were and it belonged to the nation.”
The situation
The lack of communications, and the fact that the unrest has left him stuck in his apartment, has limited Dr. Scott’s ability to get a sense of how this crisis is affecting Egypt’s antiquities.
The fact that it’s the weekend means that the Supreme Council of Antiquities staff, in Cairo, is off work.
As far as he knows Zahi Hawass is still in charge of the council and he was not forced to resign even though he is a vice-minister. “What I have heard at this point is that it’s the cabinet that has resigned, I haven’t heard about people who are lower in office,” said Scott.  
Furthermore the council still appears to be operational, at least on some level.
Scott said that he has been in contact with his staff in Luxor, where ARCE has several conservation and research projects that are ongoing. In that ancient city the council staff “advised not to work at the east bank at the site today (while) US and international teams were allowed to go out to their sites on the west bank.”
However he was quick to add that it’s still the weekend and we won’t know the full status of the council until the Egyptian work week begins tomorrow (Sunday).
He also cautioned that this is a fluid situation and communication needs to be established with other ARCE projects.
“There are US ARCE sponsored expeditions in the field and we will be in touch with them in the coming days as the situation unfolds. I don’t know that any of us at this point really have a sense of quite how things are going to happen.”

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A land of watchtowers – New research sheds light on Roman occupation of Portugal

This hilltop watchtower is one of 24 that were built in the Alto Alentejo region
of Portugal during a period of Roman occupation. In this picture
Rui Clemente, one of the team members, takes measurements.
Photo courtesy Joey Williams.

 A view of the countryside to the west of the watchtower. Photo courtesy
Joey Williams.

The archaeological team at work digging up the watchtower. Photo
courtesy Joey Williams

A team of archaeologists, working in Portugal, are exploring a system of 24 hilltop watchtowers set up in the aftermath of a Roman civil war.
“You have a rebellion put down and a landscape pacified and reorganized and you have these towers suddenly appearing,” said Joey Williams, of the University at Buffalo, who is co-leading the project along with archaeologist Rui Mataloto of the Câmara Municipal de Redondo.
The team’s work began 10 years ago when Mataloto surveyed the watchtowers, recording their features and investigating the artefacts found on the surface. Later he teamed up with Williams to excavate one of them, a 9 x 5 metre tower named Caladinho. The team’s preliminary results were presented recently at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America.
Civil War
Williams said that the civil war that preceded the tower building was a nasty one. “In this region between 82 BC and 70 BC there was a breakaway Roman Republic where a Roman statesman Quintus Sertorius mutinied,” he said. “He goes to Iberia and he brings a bunch of dissatisfied Romans with him.”
They created a shadow Roman senate and challenged Sulla, the dictator of Rome, for control of the area.
At first the rebels beat off Rome’s forces, inflicting heavy casualties. Pompey, the famous Roman general who was later defeated by Caesar, reportedly lost 10,000 men in a single battle. However he didn’t give up, eventually being reinforced with more troops and supplies.
Meanwhile Sertorius, despite his military victories, faced dissention from within. “In the midst of the campaigning season, his Italian officers, led by Perperna, turned against him. Inviting him to a banquet, they treacherously murdered him,” writes historian Leonard Curchin in his book on Roman Spain.
With the death of Sertorius, the rebellion waned, and in 61 BC a new Roman governor named Julius Caesar took over the region.
“Seeking both military glory to further his career and booty to repay his creditors, he raised a third legion and launched a lightning campaign against the Lusitani and Callaeci (tribal groups in the area),” writes Curchin.
Caesar was ruthless, “plundering even those towns that opened their gates to him.”
Along the watchtowers
The 24 watchtowers, possibly anchored by a larger fort at a site called Castelo da Lousa, were set up at some point in the mid 1st century BC, roughly the time when the civil war ended and Caesar’s period of governance began. They are located in Alto Alentejo, a region right in the center of modern day Portugal.
There would have been no easy way for the towers to communicate with each other. “This is not a network, they don’t have intervisibility, they can’t signal each other,” said Williams. “They can’t light a lantern or wave a flag at each other.”
This means that the occupants of the towers were not interested in controlling a wide area, but rather “they’re only concerned with their local landscapes.”
Many of the towers contain slag, evidence that they were involved in mining operations, possibly run by convicts or slaves. Williams pointed out that recent archaeological work in Jordan has revealed that watchtowers there were set-up to survey slave-mining operations.  “We may have a similar situation to what’s in Jordan,” he said.
Digging up Caladinho
Caladinho, the tower the team is in the process of excavating, is located on top of a ridge and overlooks plains to the north and west. To function effectively as a watchtower it would have been at least four meters tall as there is a rock outcrop that size right beside it. 
To the west of the tower the team discovered the remains of a wall. It was one meter thick by two meters tall. “It is a very substantial wall, and it does a very Roman thing where it incorporates defensive aspects of the landscape that are already present,” said Williams.  He said that more work needs to be done to determine if it surrounds the watchtower.
When the team dug into the tower itself they determined that it has two main rooms, a large one in the southwest and a narrow one in the northeast. These are connected by an L-shaped corridor.
As work continued on the tower the team found examples of an artefact not generally associated with Roman soldiers – loom weights, used for weaving – 52 of them in total. This suggests that Caladinho was used for much more than military surveillance. “The sustained domestic activity suggested by the loom weights runs counter to our interpretation of the site as a watchtower,” wrote Williams and Mataloto in the paper they presented.
It also left the team with a question, why would Roman soldiers be doing so much weaving?
There are many possibilities. The simplest explanation is that the Romans had a lot of clothes to make and repair. “Roman inscriptions tell us that the people who made clothing weren’t always women,” said Williams.
He added that the Roman army had to be largely self-sufficient while working in the field, “you would have to have someone also who would repair clothing.” That job may have fallen to those who garrisoned this watchtower.
Another possibility, and one the team plans to investigate further, is that the inhabitants of this tower were not Roman soldiers but were in fact civilians living in a fortified location.
Regardless of who was living here they certainly liked pottery. The team found the remains of terra sigillata, a type of fine ware. One of the pieces has the name of A. Vibius Scrofula, a name commonly seen on pottery produced in Arezzo between 40 – 15 BC. More examples bear a stamp with the name DAR or EVS DAREVS, this means that they were probably produced by the potter Dareus who was active in Lyon between 30 – 20 BC.
“Whomever’s living here had some nice dishes,” Williams said.
As the team excavated they also uncovered the remains of a smelting furnace. It would have been installed by someone after the tower was abandoned. “After the tower had begun to collapse some squatters came and used the structure as a support for their furnace,” said Williams.
The team also found plenty of slag at the site and more work needs to be done to determine if mining was also going on at the time the tower was occupied.
Exploring a Roman Villa
The team also took time to survey a nearby Roman villa, located just down the slope. “Around the time the fort is falling out of use, this villa down the slope is founded and grows quite large,” said Williams.
The team found a massive amount of slag, so much that the team leaders asked people to stop collecting examples after just 15 minutes of survey. They also found ceramic, brick, tile, window glass, column bases and even a bit of statuary.
Williams believes that this slag may be the key to understanding what was going on at these watchtowers. As mentioned earlier most of the other towers have large amounts of this material. It’s possible that they were involved in mining operations and, with the local inhabitants not being very friendly, the Romans chose to base these mining operations in hill top watchtowers.
Then, as time went by, and the region was pacified, the Romans left the towers and set up operations in nice villas. “It may be that the inhabitants of this tower got rich from their industry and built this villa down the slope,” said Williams.
It’s a hypothesis, one of several that could be made. It’s something for the team to think about as the winter goes by and summer, and the next field season approaches.

Friday, January 14, 2011

2,100 year-old Greek coin may have marked rare astronomical event

New research suggests that this coin marks an eclipse of Jupiter by the moon.
It happened on January 17, 121 BC and was visible in Antioch, the capital of
the Seleucid Empire.  The coin itself show Zeus with a crescent moon above his head and
a star like object hovering above the palm of his right hand.  

An unusual Greek coin, minted around 120 BC, may have marked a moment in time when people in ancient Syria saw Jupiter being blocked out by the moon.
On one side is a portrait of Antiochos VIII, the king who minted it. On the reverse is a depiction of Zeus, either nude or half-draped, holding a sceptre in his left hand.  Above the god’s head is the crescent of the moon, and his right arm is outreached with a star like figure (that may in fact be Jupiter) hovering just above his palm.
“Nobody ever re-used this iconography again – it was a one off,” said Professor Robert Weir, of the University of Windsor in Canada, who presented his research recently at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. 
Antiochos VIII was ruler of the Seleucid Empire, a kingdom created by one of Alexander the Great’s officers, after the great conqueror died in 323 BC. By the time of Antiochos this realm was composed of a rump of territory centred on the city of Antioch, in south-eastern Turkey.
The empire had been in decline for some time, with the Parthians gaining territory in the east, the Romans in the west and the Hasmoneans, a dynasty of Jewish kings, coming to power in the south.
Antiochos’s rise to the throne was brutal to say the least. His mother was a woman named Cleopatra Thea, and he started his rule having to share the throne with her. “She was a very oppressive, domineering sort of woman as far as we can gather,” said Professor Weir. “She had just killed his brother for no good reason.”
Perhaps fearing for his own life Antiochos VIII had her put to death in 121 BC, making him sole ruler of what was left of the Seleucid kingdom. 
Why the cosmic iconography?
Weir is a Classics professor with an interest in astronomy and ancient coins. He was curious why Antiochos VIII would mint a piece of currency with such an unusual drawing – could there have been something going on in the night sky?
“I did some calculations to see what was visible from Antioch, the capital of the Seleucid Empire – I came up with some interesting patterns.” Weir found that on January 17, 121 BC, the city’s residents would have seen Jupiter blocked out by the moon, an event modern day astronomers call an “occultation.”
Also “Jupiter, when it was eclipsed by the moon, was in the constellation of Cancer, which is a very significant constellation,” he said. “This means that there might be a great king coming, or being born – in Syria, because Cancer governs that part of the world the ancient astrologers believed.”
That wasn’t all that was going on in the night sky.
“I noticed that there were other favourable occultations happening at the same time. There was another occultation of Jupiter within the year and just a week after the first one there was an occultation of Venus which is also a very good omen,” he said.
Antiochos VIII, a king ruling a shrinking empire alongside his murderous mother, may have felt that the heavens were finally with him. “It was significant in a good way – an occultation of Jupiter has to do with omens for kings.”
Weir pointed out that astrologers were powerful figures in the ancient world and the discipline they practiced was influential. “These people were everywhere and we know they were influential in influencing emperors in Rome for instance,” he said.
“I think it’s fair to say they probably had a foot in the door in the court of the Seleucids.”
The heavens turn against him
Unfortunately for Antiochos VIII his rule would be anything but great. In the years that followed his empire would endure conflict, with one of his brothers, Antiochos IX, disputing his right to the throne. Eventually the two had to agree to divide what was left of the Seleucid kingdom.
In the meantime the king’s run of cosmic good luck had come to an end. Weir said that “a few years after he killed his mom there were (all) sorts of really bad luck eclipses of Mars and Saturn.”
Even worse, shortly before the coin stopped being minted, around 114 BC, “something happened in the heavens that happens only once every 2,000 years or so,” he said. “The moon eclipsed Mars and Saturn at the very same time.” An event “that’s about the worst omen you can get.”
The heavens, it seemed, had turned against the king.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

“When the creditor demands it...” – 3,800 year old tablets from Larsa, in Iraq, tell tale of ancient tycoon

Blue cities represent Larsa controlled or allied. Red represents
the city of Babylon, its enemy.
View Larsa - ca. 3,800 years ago in a larger map

A picture of Larsa published in 1912. Today most of the city has either
been excavated or looted.

He served one of the longest reigning kings in history, bought up real estate like there was no tomorrow and – oh yes – at times did business under the authority of the sun god Shamash.
His name was Abum-waqar and thanks to new research by Professor Karljürgen Feuerherm, of Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo Canada, we now know his story. “It took me basically a decade to work through this stuff,” Feuerherm said at a recent lecture in Toronto.
There are more than 200 tablets that show this man’s dealings. Most were dug up by looters in the early 20th century and are now located all over the world – with Yale University holding the lions share.  Many of them have never appeared in scholarly publications before, much less in popular media.
From the tablets we know that he lived nearly 3,800 years ago in a city named Larsa, located in southern Iraq. At that time it was ruled by Rim-Sin, a home-grown king who reigned for nearly 60 years – one of the longest recorded kingships in history. During his rule Larsa exerted influence over its neighbours, even going so far as to conquer Uruk and Isin, major cities located nearby.  
Unfortunately for Rim-Sin he met an unceremonious end when a rival of his, the Babylonian king Hammurabi, defeated him in battle, took him prisoner and sacked his city.
Who was Abum-waqar?
Abum-waqar was a “tamkar” a person whom we might think of as a businessman – albeit a well connected one.
“He’s involved with the Temple of the Sun God, he’s also involved with the palace, he’s involved with all these other tamkars and various other people,” said Professor Feuerherm.
At times he would act as an agent of the state, being entrusted to distribute goods to select individuals throughout the city. “This guy, right off the bat, was being entrusted with all these huge quantities of things,” said Feuerherm.
Examples of the stuff he distributed include food, precious metals (such as gold), garments, anointing oils, coloured pastes (white, black, yellow and red), bitumen, copper, tin and even millstones. “One gets the impression that he was well trusted – he got to hand out an awful lot of stuff.”
And in return he was handsomely rewarded. Records show that he received numerous goods including sesame, barley, vegetables, sheep and even Elamite textiles. “I don’t know much about textiles, but Elam is (on) the other side of the mountains,” said Feuerherm.
Abum-waqar appears to have been highly thought of by royal officials. At one point he was called on to play a role at the funeral of the king’s daughter, a woman named Damiqtum.
A tablet said that he was to provide
24 sheep for the funerary offering of Damiqtum daughter of the king, wife of Ali-banisu, over a one year period...
For which a sealed document was prepared for Abum-waqar and Apil-Kubi...
(Translation by Karljürgen Feuerherm)
It is not known when exactly this funeral took place.
Service to the temple
The tablets show that Abum-waqar also served Larsa’s temple – with his work being done in the name of the sun god Shamash (also spelled as Samas).
1 mina of silver for a (business) partnership – Sin-gatum has taken receipt of it from Samas and Abu-Waqar.
When the creditor demands it, he will pay the silver and its profit...
(Translation by Karljürgen Feuerherm)
“In four cases we have transactions where silver was handed out by Shamash and Abum Waqar – Shamash is the sun god, the city god of Larsa,” said Feuerherm. “It’s a very interesting partnership – when was the last time you and god handed out anything to anybody?”
Feuerherm believes that at times the temple gave out loans to people in need, and used Abum-waqar as an agent. Since the money was from the temple the name of the sun god had to be used in the agreement. “The temples were the closest equivalent we have to banks that would extend loans.”
Prisoners of war
The tablets reveal that on the odd occasion Abum-waqar dealt with prisoners of war. As a tamkar, a sort of businessman, he was capable of moving from state to state – making him a good person to make a prisoner exchange.
Two of the tablets refer to a man named “Iakunum” who was
A prisoner (of war) from Balamun ... brought back from a campaign against Babylon
The guard-
Han[ded him over] to Abu-waqar the merc[hant] for guarding.
This ended badly, with Iakunum dying. The second tablet reads-
Dead: Iakunum ... in the campaign against Zazaia, whom Ili-iddinam brought back
(All translations by Karljürgen Feuerherm)
The tablet doesn’t say how he died. He might have met his end through war injuries. It appears some of the tamkars (not Abum-waqar) informed Iakunum’s family of his death.
“Buy, buy, buy”
The tablets show that in his personal business dealings Abum-waqar was the Mr. Monopoly of his time, buying up an incredible amount of real estate. “It’s buy, buy, buy, buy, buy, over about 22 years or so,” said Feuerherm.
Nine of his real estate transactions were residential – meaning land located within the city. Another 10 pertain to agrarian land – such as orchards. He only sold land on one occasion and that was a “lot with nothing on it.”
Abum-waqar wasn’t the only person in Larsa doing this. Archaeological excavations show that in the northeast section of Larsa there was a group of people who owned some incredibly large houses.
Feuerherm pointed out that the largest house in the city of Ur was 170 square meters. On the other hand the average size house in northeast Larsa was 534 square meters – three times the size. “It’s only average, there are bigger ones than that.”
It appears what happened is that the tamkars, including Abum-waqar, were involved in the ancient equivalent of gentrification. 

They “bought up all the properties, knocked them all down and built these big things with lots of space in between.” The money they made from dealing with the palace, the temple and their private businesses financed these buying sprees.
Meanwhile those with a low income were stuck living in the city centre, close to Larsa’s cooking ovens and the heat and smoke that they bring.
This trend of the tamkars buying up real estate continued until around the 32nd year of Rim-Sin’s reign. After that it ends abruptly. “98 percent of all the sales and purchases we have are prior to year 32 and two percent for after,” said Feuerherm. The reason for this appears to be quite simple.
“They stopped buying real estate when they bought it all – there was nothing left.” Things in Larsa entered a static phase, there were few real estate deals and the poor, those without land, were stuck in the city centre.
“It would have been interesting to see what would have happened down the road,” said Feuerherm. However around year 60 of Rim-Sin’s reign “Hammurabi came and sacked the place.”
Personal life
We don’t know much about Abum-waqar’s personal life. The tablets focus on his public dealings and rarely mention anything personal. From what Feuerherm can tell his father’s name was Iddin-Erra and the name of one of his grandfathers was Aattani.
Feuerherm said that there is a “high likelihood” that Aattani was from Ur. His name appears in several documents that are from that city. Also it makes sense that he would have moved from Ur to Larsa. About two centuries before Abum-Waqar’s time, Ur had been a major power in itself, controlling a swath of territory across southern Iraq. However the city had fallen into decline, while Larsa’s power was on the rise.
Another bit of personal information we know is that Abum-waqar had a brother named Silli-Ahua and a son named Watar-Samas. The three of them did business extensively. Sadly, this included involvement in the slave trade.
½ mina of silver, corre[ct] weight, which had been given to Abum-waqar, merchant, for the purchase of slaves
Delivery of Silli-Ahua brother of Abum-waqar, and Watar-Samas his son, a portion of the arrears which had been turned over to Marersetim for collection...  
(Translation by Karljürgen Feuerherm)
The death of Abum-waqar
We don’t know how Abum-waqar died or if he lived to see Hammurabi sack his home city of Larsa.  
His last deal is recorded in the 50th year of Rim-Sin’s reign, about 10 years before the Babylonian king attacked the city. 
This last tablet discussed animals that Abum-waqar was taking care of. They had become sick, and had to be written off. After that he disappears from the public record forever. By this time he likely would have been in his 60’s, quite an old age for someone in the ancient world.
He had been “visible in government records for 44 years,” said Feuerherm, a lengthy amount of service for a man who was well regarded for having the ability to get the job done.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A flax merchant from Egypt! Owner of 4th century New Testament papyrus identified

This papyrus contains the first seven verses of Paul's Letter to the
Romans. Beneath the scripture a different author has scribbled in random
phrases. It has been suggested that this papyrus may have been a writing exercise.
New research has identified the owner of this document - a man named Aurelius Leonides.

A Princeton University researcher has identified the owner of a New Testament papyrus that dates to the time of Constantine the Great.
Constantine was the Roman emperor who allowed Christians to practice freely, ending hundreds of years of persecution. His decision led people throughout the empire to convert and disseminate the New Testament.
Now, thanks to this new discovery, we know the story of one of these Christians. 
“It is the first and only ancient instance where we know the owner of a Greek New Testament papyrus,” writes Professor AnneMarie Luijendijk in an article recently published in the Journal of Biblical Literature. “For most early New Testament manuscripts, we do not know where they were found, let alone who had owned them.”
The papyrus was discovered in the late 19th century at the Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus, located roughly 160 kilometres south of Cairo. The document contains the first seven verses of Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
“There are several mistakes in spelling and part of verse 6 is omitted” wrote site excavators Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt in 1899. They concluded that the papyrus was “no doubt a schoolboy’s exercise.”  
Who owned it?
To find the ancient owner of this papyrus Professor Luijendijk engaged in some archaeological detective work. Grenfell and Hunt mentioned in 1899 that “the papyrus was found tied up with a contract dating to 316 AD.” Unfortunately they did not specify which document this is.
“They were not particularly interested in the social context of the texts they had unearthed, or perhaps they were too busy editing their enormous find,” writes Luijendijk.
To find this missing document Luijendijk turned to a modern day papyrus database called the Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis or HGV. She searched for examples from Oxyrhynchus that date to AD 316.
She found 13 examples but only two of them were contracts. One discussed a “lease of a plot of land” while the other was “a contract for the sale of a donkey.”
Luijendijk determined that the donkey sale could not be the missing contract. “Grenfell and Hunt cannot have referred to the latter papyrus, for it did not come from their excavations.”
This left only the land lease document. Further investigation revealed that it was excavated during the same field season as the New Testament papyrus. This meant that it had to be the one.
From there the discovery got even more interesting.
The land lease contract had a name on it - that of a man named Aurelius Leonides, a flax merchant from Egypt. He must have owned both the contract and the New Testament papyrus.
Further research revealed that there are more than a dozen papyri from Oxyrhynchus that belonged to Leonides. This gave Luijendijk the opportunity to reconstruct this man’s past – and give some clues as to how Christianity may have spread in his community.
Aurelius Leonides
We don’t know much about Leonides family life. His father’s name is Theon, while his mother remains nameless. It is unknown whether he had a wife or children. Luijendijk said that the man’s earliest document dates from AD 315 and the latest is from AD 334. It “is likely that the New Testament papyrus was written early in the second quarter of the fourth century, that is, in the 320s or 330s,” she writes.
This is a date that puts the document in the time of Constantine.
Luijendijk also writes that Leonides “probably came from a somewhat well-to-do family.” We know this because his documents include at least one letter that he penned with his own hand saying “I, the same Leonides, have signed.”
In the modern world we tend to take literacy for granted. But in the ancient world only a small proportion of the population was able to read and write. “Leonides was thus a literate man, who had enjoyed an education,” writes Luijendijk.
The documents reveal that Leonides did business in two villages in the area. “Most documents in the archive are applications for the lease of land for the cultivation of flax; another records Leonides' purchase of flax,” said Luijendijk in her article.
They also indicate that Leonides was a leader in the local guild. He “even occupied a rotating leadership position in this professional association, for he functioned repeatedly as its monthly president.” The relationships he formed in this guild may have helped spread Christianity throughout the community.
The documents reveal a business relationship Leonides had with a member of the early church.
They say that Leonides did business with a man named Ammonius. Together the two of them “leased five arouras of land for cultivating flax in the upper toparchy of the Oxyrhynchite nome in the year 318.”
Records indicate that 14 years prior to this deal, in AD 304, Ammonius was caught up in persecution against the early church.  “This same Ammonius appears in another document, which pertains to the confiscation of church property during the so-called Great Persecution,” writes Luijendijk. He is identified as "Ammonius, son of Copres, lector of the former church of the village of Chysis." The job of a lector was to “recite biblical passages during worship.” This is a job that would have required Ammonius to be literate.
“Thus, through his business relationship with a church reader, we detect another, albeit more indirect, connection between Leonides and Christian manuscripts,” writes Luijendijk.
It also opens up another possibility – that Leonides could have been a lector himself, using his literacy skills to read the gospel to a church congregation.
Did Leonides write the New Testament papyrus himself?
We cannot know for sure if Leonides wrote it. Just underneath the scripture there is a name scribbled in, that of someone named Aurelius Paulus. None of Leonides other documents mentions this man.
It is unknown why his name appears just below the first seven verses of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Luijendijk suggested several possibilities in her article. “Was it penned in relation to the apostle Paul's letter quoted above? Was a fourth-century Paul himself the writer of the scribbles, or was he the subject of a document that the scribe was about to compose?”
Indeed we may never know who wrote this papyrus. But, thanks to this bit of detective work, we now know who owned it, a first for an ancient New Testament text.