Papyrus Making 101: rediscovering the craft of making ancient paper  

Detailed Conservation Instructions

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Recto of P.Mich.Inv 1834, a sealed document from sometime after the Arab Conquest of Egypt

This document was written on a piece of recycled papyrus. The large writing on the verso (image below) and revealed on the folded/rolled portion of the recto represents earlier usage. The clay seal is clearly visible, as well as the cords binding the rolled portion shut. The cords pass through a hole that has been punched in the body of the document. The photo at left is an important step in the process of conservation. Photo documentation is an essential component of conserving these documents, as the original state of the document will be of interest to future generations of scholars. Here the document is photographed with a color correction key, a ruler, a label indicating that this is the recto, and a label identifying this as a "before" shot. In addition, a document called a conservation report is created to outline the current condition of the papyrus and all conservation treatments to be performed.

Verso of P.Mich.Inv 1834

The verso of the document is also photographed, with a label indicating that this is the verso.

Cutting the binding string with a scalpel

The binding cord is cut on the outside edge of the rolled/folded edge of the papyrus. This allows the binding cord to continue to be anchored in the hole that was punched through the document, and the seal to remain anchored to the document.

Releasing the seal from the document

The seal is carefully lifted from the papyrus to release the rolled portion.

Applying a small drop of water to the document

A small drop of water is applied to the ink to make certain that the ink is stable.

Using a piece of blotter paper to test the ink

A piece of blotter paper is placed over the wetted area and a lexan block is applied to weigh it down.

Checking the blotter for signs of bleeding

After a few moments the blotter is removed and checked for ink stains. In this case the blotter is clean. If there were signs of bleeding extreme caution would need to be exercised in order to avoid getting the ink wet.

Moistening the outer fold of the rolled portion

Water is applied to the outer edge of the folded portion to allow the brittle fibers to relax so that the document may be unrolled.

More moistening


Careful lifting of the first fold

Leyla pulls the seal back with her left hand while using a spatula to lift the fold.

Continued working of the relaxed papyrus

Leyla uses the spatula to encourage the fibers to lie flat.

Moistening the inside fold of the rolled portion

Another fold is moistened to encourage the relaxation of the fibers.

More unfolding


More moistening


Weights are applied to help the papyrus dry flat

Lead weights wrapped in linen cloth help encourage the papyrus to dry flat.

The final fold of the papyrus roll is opened


The papyrus is left alone to dry


Plexiglas rods are used to create a space for the sealed papyrus between two sheets of glass

1/4 inch by 1/4 inch square profile acrylic rods placed along the four margins of the glass housing and fixed in place with small strips of japanese paper and wheat starch paste create a space to accommodate the seal.

The first strip of linen tape is applied to the topmost edge

This application of tape creates a hinged workspace into which the papyrus can be mounted and labeled.

A second strip of tape is applied to the topmost edge

The two pieces of tape overlap creating a very durable joint.

A label indicating the inventory number is placed in the housing

Filmoplast tape is used to secure a label to the glass mount.

Placement of the papyrus

The papyrus is centered and weights are used to keep it in place.

Anchoring the papyrus

1 mm wide gummed glassine strips are used to secure the papyrus to the glass. The glassine strips are coated with a water-soluble adhesive. Leyla is careful to place the anchoring strips in discreet areas.


Leyla presses it down slightly with her fingertip to make sure it is attached.


Four or more strips may be used to secure the document.

Applying tape to seal the papyrus

With a large weight in place to steady the housing tape is applied to the remaining three sides.

The last piece of tape is applied

The project is complete.

After photo documentation of the recto

Photographs of both the recto and verso are taken to document the new condition of the document. Notice how happy this papyrus looks.

After photo documentation of the verso



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