Oxyrhynchus ('sharp-beaked', referring to a local sacred fish) was one of the most important cities in the late period of Ancient Egypt, its Egyptian name being Per-medjed. It was a regional capital under the Hellenistic and Roman rulers. It lies 160 km south of Cairo, on a river called the Bahr Yusuf, a branch of the Nile flowing from the Fayyum Oasis to the north. In modern times it is the little village of el-Bahnassa, and consisted of nothing but a few "squalid huts".

The magnificent city had perished over two thousand years, and nothing was left of it but a few ruins, and its rubbish. Rubbish, preserved in the Egyptian sand: rubbish that came from the time when the city was built and flourished. Papyrus! Documents. Lists. Books. The original and authentic manuscripts of great works of art, not filtered through centuries of monkish transmission and loss, but straight from the people who wrote it, thought it, watched it, or to whom it happened. Poems, plays, philosophy, famous names recovered, but also all the papers of everyday life.

We know where Thonis the fisherman lived, and Aphynchis the embroiderer, and Anicetus the dyer, and Philammon the greengrocer. We know how much farmers had to pay when they brought in dates and olives and pumpkins to market. We know that on 2 November, AD 182, the slave Epaphroditus, eight years old, leaned out of a bedroom window to watch the castanet-players in the street below, and slipped and fell and was killed. We meet Juda, who fell off his horse and needs two nurses to turn him over; Sabina, who hit Syra with her key and put her in bed for four days (ancient keys are good solid objects); Apollonius and Sarapias, who send a thousand roses and four thousand narcissuses for the wedding of a friend’s son.

Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt were friends from Queen's College, Oxford, who since 1895 had been doing graduated work in Egypt financed by the Egypt Exploration Society of London. In 1897, aware of the occasional papyrus found by peasants, they began to excavate Oxyrhynchus systematically. They shipped back enormous amounts to England, wintering in Egypt and spending the summers in Oxford piecing the bits together and analysing and writing up their finds. Most of the originals are still held in the papyrology rooms of the Ashmolean Museum there. Together over the years Grenfell and Hunt produced eighteen volumes of transcriptions.

They found works by Homer, Aristotle, Sappho, Menander, Callimachus, Pindar, among many others. The poet Bacchylides was little more than a name before these discoveries.

The above quote and most of this information is from the Oxyrhynchus Online site at http://www.csad.ox.ac.uk/POxy/mainmenu.htm

In April 2005 Oxford scientists achieved a breakthrough in infrared techniques for reading previously unreadable fragments. A vast new amount of material from Oxyrhynchus is now going to be made available: already parts of new works by Archilochus, Euripides, Hesiod, and Sophocles have been deciphered. The magnitude of this achievement is potentially staggering: it has been suggested there could b a twenty per cent increase in the amount of Classical texts known! It could add up to five million words. As well as the majority Greek, many other languages are represented, such as Aramaic, Coptic, Hebrew, Latin, and Persian.

New discoveries: http://news.independent.co.uk/world/science_technology/story.jsp?story=630165

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