Revelation from Ancient Trash Dump
In the northern part of Egypt a city thrived for more than a thousand years, living, loving, and throwing away ‘trash’. In the early 1800’s two archeologists stumbled upon the location of the city dump outside the city walls of Oxyrhynchus and successfully recovered more than 50,000 pieces of accumulated papyrus for transport back to England where they lay large unstudied for the next two hundred years.
Papyrus is a plant that served as the first paper in Asia, a discovery of the ancient Egyptians, and was in common use for much of the time that the city of Oxyrhynchus existed. The problem was that whatever writing had existed on the woven surface of the ancient paper had faded to the point of being illegible. It tantalized the imagination what might be found amongst the treasure trove if only a method of reviving the writing could be found.
NASA became the unlikely hero in developing a multispectral imaging system designed to aid them in obtaining enhanced images of distant planets. The imager utilizes cutting edge technology to key in on the ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths of light. But the distant ‘worlds’ it revealed when applied to the ‘trash’ of ancient Oxyrhynchus was even more exciting. Lost works by Homer and Sappho were discovered with mundane inventory records, accident reports, news items of the day and even portions of the gospels and Paul’s letter to the Romans. Glimpses into the long forgotten happenings of people like Sabina (who hit another woman so hard with a bronze key that the victim nearly died) and Epaphroditus (an eight-year-old slave boy who slipped and fell from a window to the street below and died) are interspersed with more significant documents. Among the scraps they have even found a ‘sex-manual’. Grocery bills and government documents, discards of a thousand years all offer new insight to life in the ancient world. Is rings true today that much can be learned from what we routinely throw away.
As we search the heavens for answers we unexpectedly have unraveled a massive piece of the past.