One of the oldest papyri in Europe can be admired in Mangalia
Romania shelters one of the oldest papyri ever discovered in Europe, next to the one at Derveni, Greece and the other one at Herculaneum, Italy.
The papyrus tracked down on Romanian territory is in Mangalia now (a little town and resort on the Black Sea coast), sheltered by the town museum. It is 25,000-year-old and was discovered in a tomb in the ancient Greek citadel of Callatis. Actually, the papyrus has never been displayed, but the tomb where it has been found can be admired at the Mangalia museum.
In 1959 a team of archaeologists from Bucharest discovered a tumular tomb made of great limestone slabs. On top of them there were flagstones nicely carved, covered by other wheat tiles, egg shells and a gilt ceramics wreath.
Inside the tomb, the archeologists found the corpse of a man, who was allegedly an important person of the citadel, a culture man or a politician. The man was holding a papyrus bundle that suddenly blackened when it got in contact with the air.
Romanians have called a team of Russian experts in papyrus restoration to help them with the new discovery.
Mikhail Alexandrovski, the most famous Soviet researcher of those times, tried to preserve the paper before getting it out from the tomb. However, his attempt failed and the papyrus “broke” into more than 150 pieces. Further look-overs only revealed several scarlet letters on the valuable paper. The papyrus was eventually sent to Moscow to be thoroughly analyzed.
Unfortunately, all attempts to decode the text of the papyrus failed and the pieces were eventually forgotten.
For more than a half of century, the Romanian researchers thought the ancient document has vanished. But it was tracked down again in 2009, when the former manager of Callatis Museum accompanied by a team of Romanian experts managed to recover it from Moscow. There were 154 pieces of the ancient papyrus kept in several boxes.
The papyrus is a thick paper-like material made from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, which can be found in the Nile Delta. Later on, Papyrus became a term referring to a document written on sheets of papyrus joined together side by side and rolled up into a scroll, an early form of a book.
Papyrus was also used throughout the Mediterranean and Balkan regions, particularly within Greek fortresses. Despite their wide circulation, very few ancient papyri have made it up to the present times.