Imagine to yourself what it would be like to come across an exciting manuscript in the middle of the desert. You are searching in a dark cave, unexplored for thousands of years and you come across--what? a complete scroll? a nicely bound book? Well, perhaps. However, your ancient manuscript is just as likely to be a whole lot of separate fragments, badly preserved. Picture a large box with 20 jigsaw puzzles all mixed together--and 80% of the pieces are missing. That is what epigraphers have to cope with fairly often.
The process of matching fragments, or putting the puzzles back together again, is sometimes done by matching handwriting fragment to fragment. But what if the handwriting all looks the same? With papyrus fragments, it is sometimes possible to match the actual grain of the papyrus. Papyrus is made by cutting slices of a reed, laying those slices down, and then putting another layer on top at a 90 degree angle to the bottom layer. This makes it look as if papyrus is woven. It is possible to closely examine the fiber pattern and match it to the fiber pattern of other fragments.
Below are nine paired boxes. Download the image on your computer and print it out on plain white paper. If you cut around each pair, fold along the dotted line, and secure the pairs back-to-back with tape or paste, you will have nine squares. See if you can then match all nine squares (front and back) so they form a single, large square. (Remember, the lines and bars have to match on the front AND on the back.)
If you succeed, send the result in a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Bruce Zuckerman, Director, West Semitic Research Project, School of Religion, 328 Taper Hall, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089 and you will receive a letter acknowledging that you are a "Master Papyrologist" (a person who studies papyrus manuscripts).
Exercise by Bruce Zuckerman, West Semitic Research.
Commentary by Marilyn J. Lundberg.