The Writing on the Sherd

Megan Narvey

One of the objects I am in charge of this year is this small ceramic pot, belonging to the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology:

Before Treatment photo of the archaeological ceramic in question. Courtesy of Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UC65224

Before treatment photo of the archaeological ceramic in question. Courtesy of UCL, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UC65224

One of the interesting things about this object is that it was excavated by a rather famous early archaeologist, Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie. Petrie is famous in archaeological circles as a pioneer of modern archaeology, implementing methodical techniques and caring about the small details.

Portrait of Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, 1903

Portrait of Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, 1903

Petrie’s legacy was visible right on the inner wall of one of the large sherds on my pot – the blue pencil markings were identified as belonging to him. Unfortunately, they are very difficult to read.

This blue pencil writing belongs to Flinders Petrie. Courtesy of UCL, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UC

This blue pencil writing belongs to Flinders Petrie. Courtesy of UCL, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UC65224

The pot had undergone a previous treatment some time in the past that had now failed, leaving several sherds detached, as you can see in the first photograph above. Additionally, the pot had survived not one, but two historic fires! This had left a thick layer of soot on the object, which you can see below. In order to remove it, I had to spend a lot of time testing different cleaning methods and looking at the surface of the ceramic very closely.

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Courtesy of UCL, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UC65224

There was an exciting and unexpected consequence of spending a lot of time cleaning the sherds –  I saw strange shimmery lines underneath engrained soot on one of the fragments, almost invisible to the naked eye. In order to figure out what I was seeing, I looked at the fragment with an infrared (IR) Dino-Lite, a handheld digital microscope. The infrared rays, with a longer wavelength than visible light, allowed me to not only see more clearly, but take close up images of what was hiding under the soot.

Here is an image of the sherd under normal light:

An image of the fragment with the hidden writing. Can you spot it? Courtesy of UCL, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UC65224

An image of the fragment with the hidden writing. Can you spot it? Courtesy of UCL, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UC65224

In contrast, here is what was captured with the IR Dino-Lite:

The IR Dino-Lite images of the hidden writing.

The IR Dino-Lite images of the hidden writing.

I also annotated the photograph on Powerpoint so that the writing was bright red, making it easier to read:

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Whatever is written here is very similar to and in much better condition than the original and much more obvious writing, even under the same conditions!

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I now need to help to identify what is written. What do you think? Can you decipher what Petrie has written?

 

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