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Tebtunis papyri to be featured in new exhibition

The Papyrus in the Crocodile: 150 Years of Excavation, Exploration, Collection, and Stewardship at Berkeley

May 4 – July 29, 2016

Bancroft Library Gallery, University of California, Berkeley

Papyri from the collection of the Center for the Tebtunis Papyri will be featured in an upcoming public exhibition in the Bancroft Library gallery. The exhibition is curated by participants in a Berkeley graduate seminar on the history of antiquities collecting at the University. The following are excerpts from the official press release:

“The collections assembled by Berkeley’s many patrons and collectors over the last 150 years have formed the core and foundation of a wide variety of the university’s academic disciplines. The Papyrus in the Crocodile embodies Berkeley’s motto fiat lux (“let there be light”) by illuminating a key selection of these invaluable objects as testaments to the cosmopolitan ideologies of Berkeley’s visionary patrons and donors – whose own lives were scarcely less fascinating than the archeological, ethnographic and aesthetic materials they amassed. In gathering together artifacts from repositories across the university, this exhibition sheds light on the history of acquisitions and encounters that have contributed to the academic diversity celebrated on the Berkeley campus, and recognizes the remarkable men and women who enthusiastically fulfilled University President Benjamin Ide Wheeler’s call to collect for the sake of research and the creation of new knowledge.

The Papyrus in the Crocodile begins by highlighting one of the university’s greatest contributors, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, and the exceptional collections compiled under her patronage. In 1899, Hearst heeded the advice of Egyptologist George A. Reisner to fund an expedition for Oxford papyrologists Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt. As they excavated in the sands of the Egyptian necropolis at ancient Tebtunis, they uncovered [papyrus fragments] including 2nd-century BCE texts stuffed inside mummified crocodiles. The artifacts from that excavation entered the university’s new Museum of Anthropology (since renamed the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology) and the papyrus texts went to the Bancroft Library where they are now housed at the Center for the Tebtunis Papyri.

“Visitors to the show will find the excavated papyrus fragments, including a magical amulet charm guarding against fever, displayed alongside one of the mummified crocodiles. No longer used as stuffing, each papyrus safely resides within a custom-made glass mount, one of the key conservation achievements of the Center for the Tebtunis Papyri. Photographs and documents of the Hearst Egyptian Expedition recreate the scene of the excavation and the excitement of the researchers at their fortuitous find.

“For the young Californian university, founded in 1868, the turn-of-the-century expeditions to the far corners of the world brought back research materials that propelled Berkeley ahead as a beacon of research and learning on par with any of its more-established East Coast and European counterparts. This exhibition showcases the diverse nature of Berkeley’s collections, which span multiple continents, representing diverse cultures, and encompassing a wide range of materials and mediums. …

“This exhibition is the capstone event to a three-year grant for Graduate Study in Curatorial Preparedness and Object-Based Learning from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Curated by students in the Mellon Exhibition Graduate Seminar, The Papyrus in the Crocodile represents the culmination of a year’s worth of research, selection, organization, and writing from students representing the fields of art history, anthropology, history, and religion. …

“In addition to the exhibition, students are working on individual research papers based on objects in Berkeley’s collections. These papers will be presented at a public symposium on May 4, 2016 from 1 to 5 pm at the Women’s Faculty Club, UC Berkeley. All are welcome.”

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