The University of Michigan Papyrus Collection

The first 617 papyri arrived at the University of Michigan in 1920, purchased by Professor Francis W. Kelsey. The purchase of papyri continued in the following years, in cooperation with other institutions such as the British Museum and Cornell University. (The British Museum often functioned as the "distribution center" for the new purchases.) Kelsey wanted scholarly institutions to buy as much papyri as possible to prevent them from being bought up by private individuals.

From 1924 to 1933 the University of Michigan found a new source of papyri in the excavations it carried out in Karanis (modern Kom Aushim) and Soknopaiou Nesos (Dime) in the Fayum region. These excavations were carried out in a newly methodical manner, and also yielded countless artifacts. The finds from these excavations were divided between Egypt and Ann Arbor under an agreement with the Egyptian Department of Antiquities.

History of Conservation at Michigan

In the early twentieth century Michigan's papyri were packed up at the sites of excavation and purchase and shipped to Ann Arbor in tin boxes and folders. The "folders" were often old newspapers and other spare scraps of acidic paper, which is damaging to papyri. Many of them remained stored in their original boxes for decades, although those which received scholarly attention were placed between two pieces of glass so that they could be handled without fear of damage.

The situation changed in the early 1990s when the Library's Preservation Division initiated a project to rehouse and stabilize the whole papyrus collection. All of the papyri are now housed in acid-free folders and grouped in boxes specifically designed for this collection. Approximately 1,200 papyri are mounted between sheets of glass. The papyrus collection was moved into a purpose-built environmental room in 1993. This room maintains a steady 65°F and 45% relative humidity, because excess humidity and fluctuating conditions are damaging to organic materials such as papyrus.

Since 1996 the Advanced Papyrological Information System (APIS) project, funded in part by several grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, spurred an expansion of conservation treatment for individual items in the collection. In the past decade conservator Leyla Lau-Lamb has treated over 2,000 of the papyri. Her guidelines for the conservation of papyrus for the APIS project are now published at

image of label used to ship papyri Label used to ship papyri from the British Museum to Ann Arbor
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