28 JAN

Mummy Mask Reveals Fragments of the Past

A print of the ancient Gospel of Mark has been discovered inside of an ancient Egyptian mummy mask that had been fashioned with recycled papyri. Researchers have dated this fragment to be from before the year 90 A.D.!  While preceding copies of the New Testament Biblical gospel text only goes back to 101 to 200 A.D., making this fragment the oldest known copy of the Gospel of Mark! It may come to a shock to some that a mummy mask was made from recycled papyrus sheets, but not all of the dead in Egypt received such fine burial ornamentations, as the jewels and masks of gold were only used for the wealthy. Otherwise, if you were just an ordinary person, mummy masks were typically created from materials like linen, as well as papyrus, and since papyrus was not cheap, sheets that typically had writing on it were recycled back into the mask. These materials were then combined with glue to bind everything together into a “paper-mâché” mask.

This could very well could be considered to be another ‘holy grail’ discovery as the Gospel of Mark fragment is just one of the hundreds of new transcripts being revealed, as additional antique documents have also been recovered from the first, second, and third centuries. However, these papers are not just Christian or biblical texts, as classical Greek texts have also been discovered, in addition to personal letters, business papers, and other various mundane fragments. In order to retrieve the information out of the glued mummy masks, researchers are utilizing a combination of paleography (handwriting analysis), carbon dating, in addition to using a method in which they can unglue the papyrus without obscuring the paper’s ink. As of right now, the research team claims to have its first volume of texts available sometime later this year.

When released, this might help solve the debate over recovery methods, as the process of extracting the papyrus ultimately destroys the mummy masks. Nonetheless, when these texts are published it will help settle the controversy surrounding this practice, as some feel that this process is licentiously ruining historical ancient artifacts. Another motivation for the controversy is that some are questioning the value of these texts, asking is it worth it to destroy an artifact for a document that turned out to be just an everyday, mundane note?  But on the other hand, these masks that are being destroyed are not considered to be museum quality pieces, and the end product could be hundreds, if not thousands, of documents that could be very beneficial to biblical scholars, historians, as well as archaeologists in putting together the pieces of the past!