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The Ramesseum Papyri

R. B. Parkinson

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The archaeological context (continued)

The owner

The find-spot provides little contextual evidence to assess the social status of the tomb-owner or the date of the burial. In another part of the cemetery, the lid of a kohl-vase was discovered inscribed with part of a cartouche, perhaps that of Sekhemreswadjtawi Sobekhotep III (Quibell 1898: 5, pl. 18, no. 16). The burials in the cemetery included a variety of ranks to judge by the differing styles of burials, but it is hard to quantify this: Petrie and Quibell also uncovered the tomb of one Sehotepibre son of Montuhotep, with a long brick tunnel elaborately decorated with paintings of funeral rites (Quibell 1898: 4, pls 6–9). The combination of papyri and objects has generally been interpreted as showing that the owner was a learned individual with connections to the temple sphere (e.g. Parkinson 2009: 148–60); certainly the large number of manuscripts (the largest single collection to survive from the period) suggests a high level of literacy and expertise with a broad range of elite written culture in both hieratic and linear hieroglyphic scripts. The discovery of another later tomb belonging to a royal nurse (Nelson 2006) has led to a suggestion that this area of the necropolis was for nurses and that the tomb-owner was one such (Gnirs 2009). However, the inclusion of ceremonies that are performed by male ritualists in the papyri, and the extent of written culture contained in them, suggest that this hypothesis may be implausible. It seems likely that the owner was probably a man connected with the temple sphere, perhaps a lector priest, embalmer, or some other type of priest. He was certainly wealthy enough to have a household that used accounts, and circumstantial evidence suggests he might well have been connected with the local court.

This large collection was probably built up from diverse sources. The papyrus was ‘the finest quality throughout’ (Gardiner 1955a: 18) and therefore thin (and consequently fragile in modern times). The papyri may also have suffered from extensive use (Gardiner 1955a: 7). Several rolls (including both literary and healing texts) have the remains of ruled guide-lines from a previous administrative usage, especially — but not exclusively — the rolls that can be dated early in the group. On one roll (P. Ramesseum C+18) the first administrative text remains largely un-erased, a set of official despatches from the Nubian fortresses that had been written on the recto of a roll, and then magical texts were later copied onto parts of the blank verso. The papyrus with despatches seems to have come from an administrative archive from the reign of Amenemhat III. At some point before the magical texts were written, this old roll had been patched with a small piece of papyrus from a set of accounts, again suggesting that the roll originated from the administrative sphere. All the administrative texts among the papyri are incidentally present, as texts that were reused or as personal records of their owner jotted on the back of rolls that retained their primary purpose. The papyri include a few literary compositions together with an onomasticon, hymns, rituals, and medical and magical texts; the last are the majority. The use of linear script in several manuscripts suggests that these might ultimately have derived from a temple library (Parkinson 2009: 148–9). The linear script is hard to date, but the hieratic hands show different styles, and a schematic survey suggests that they can be grouped into three main groups, ranging from reign of Amenemhat III to the late 13th Dynasty. It remains uncertain whether the collection of manuscripts was gradually acquired by a single individual from sources of different dates, or whether it was built up by a sequence of individuals from more contemporaneous sources. If the latter, the collection may have been owned and formed over probably three generations. The magical equipment that was found in the same shaft shows signs of repeated repair and extensive use, which perhaps suggests that there was a sequence of owners passing both papyri and artefacts from generation to generation.