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Project Homepage:

Data collections can be seen on:!/q=papyri/class=all/p=1/group=Macquarie%20University/

Software is available at:


Observational Instruments (e.g. from telescope, camera, etc.)

Data Repository Solutions

Project Members:

Dr Malcolm Choat (

Dr Trevor Evans (

ANDS Contact:

Alan Glixman (

Project Status:


Papyri Data Capture

Macquarie University

Project Description

Manuscripts written on papyrus, a pre-modern writing surface made from strips of the papyrus plant, have been recovered in vast quantities from Egypt, where they have been preserved in the low-humidity environment of the Nile Valley and nearby Oases. Papyri survive from all periods of Egyptian antiquity, written in all the many languages spoken in the country over the millennia, including Egyptian, Greek, Latin, and Arabic. As written documents surviving directly from antiquity, bearing both literature and the documents of everyday life, texts on papyrus have a central role in the reconstruction of the ancient world.

The ability of scholars to study these manuscripts – and thus communicate the information in them both to the academic community and the general public – is however hindered by the process by which they were taken out of Egypt and sold through antiquities dealers. This has not only left little indication of the place from which many have come, but has resulted in parts of the same text being housed in two or more modern collections. In their efforts to assess the totality of papyri that exist in collections worldwide, to join long-separated parts of the same manuscript and reconstruct ancient archives of documents concerning the same individuals, scholars are hindered by the lack in many places of effective databases of images and metadata on the papyri.

The Museum of Ancient Cultures created a database in FileMaker Pro to start tackling this issue. The database was created and populated by Rosalie Cook, and its design was inspired by the metadata design of the Advanced Papyrological Information System (APIS).

In this project, a web site to host a publish metadata related to this collection was created, based on the FileMake Pro data and aimed to overcome its numerous limitations. In particular, the web site offers:
1. Public access to full metadata records of certain fully understood documents in the collection, including a high-resolution image suitable for printing.
2. A registration process for external researchers and the ability to offer access control to restricted records in the collection.
3. A workflow process so records can be updated once research progresses, eventually leading to a fully public access record for the wider community.
4. Still, records can be made partially public to enable discovery by other researchers.

Research focus
The project orbits around topics like Latin and Classical Greek Languages, Classical Greek and Roman History, Christian Studies (incl. Biblical Studies and Church History) and Archaeology of Europe, the Mediterranean and the Levant, to name a few. Researchers in those fields fill find metadata relevant to their research in the system, enhancing and fostering collaboration among different disciplines.

In particular, for papyrologists, the project provides:
• Discoverability: although full publicly available metadata is only provided to documents that have been studied already; administrators can pre-release records that are not yet studied to grab attention from potential researchers. A low-quality image is also provided.
• Workflow: external researchers can sign-up to have access and request full access to a record. When full access is granted, a high-resolution image is provided suitable for carrying research.
• Metadata publishing: the site makes records available to ANDS’ Research Data Australia collections repository. In there, lead researchers at Macquarie University have identified different subsets of the collection that could be of interest to certain groups of researchers. In addition, interfaces to APIS and Trismegistos were developed, so the records can be made available in these two popular (for papyrologists) repositories.

Project outcomes
As a result of this project, a web site has been developed, hosted by Macquarie University that offers the functionality mentioned above. Some outcomes highlights are:

1. The site was developed using Rails (a popular web framework for the Ruby language.) It offers:
a. For administrators (those tasked with the curation of the collection) it provides the ability to enter/update metadata and images through web forms. The administrators provision user accounts - either internal (via LDAP) or external users.
b. For registered researchers (typically those interested in a particular papyrus) it provides the ability to request detailed access to a particular record (which must be approved by an administrator).
c. For the general public, it provides search and browse functions for records the administrators have made public (either in full, or in part).
2. The existing database (FileMaker Pro) was migrated to the new system and all images integrated into the web site.
3. The system also provides interfaces to have its collection indexed by Research Data Australia, and

Finally, from an infrastructure point of view, care was taken to ensure the server was aligned to policies and practices in Macquarie University IT. In particular, the project can and uses LDAP (to authenticate users), it was developed in Rails (a flexible yet powerful web development framework), and it uses Macquarie Uni preferred RDBMS.

The software is available on github under the open source GPL v3 license. Although this system was designed for the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University, to try and reuse it in in another papyriological context would be very easy. A small amount of work would be needed to remove (or modify) the OneID (LDAP) user features which were built to integrate with Macquarie University Authentication system. Reuse in other contexts would also be possible but may require some changes to tailor the metadata to a specific research domain.

Data Type:

Papyri images and metadata


2101 Archaeology (especially 210105 Archaeology of Europe the Mediterranean and the Levant); 2103 Historical Studies (especially 210306 Classical Greek and Roman History); 2204 Religion and Religious Studies (especially 220401 Christian Studies including Biblical Studies and Church History); 2003 Language Studies (especially 200305 Latin and Classical Greek Languages); and 2005 Literary Studies (especially 200510 Latin and Classical Greek Literature)