Epigraphy, which means writing on something, refers to writing on an enduring substance like stone. As such, it was impressed, inscribed, or chiseled rather than written with the stylus or reed pen applied to ordinarily decaying media like paper and papyrus. It wasn't only the social malcontents and love-lorn who inscribed their worldviews, but from such and from the administrative trivia found on papyrus documents, we have been able to learn much about daily life in antiquity.
Papyrology is the study of papyrus documents. The papyrologists who decipher the papyrus documents use experience gained from a background in Ancient History, Classics, Egyptology, and Philology.
Preparing the Papyrus
Details on preparing papyrus in antiquity are surprisingly limited, according to (palimpsest.stanford.edu/aic/bpg/annual/v12/owen.html) the Brooklyn Museum. The procedure for making a sheet of papyrus suitable for writing involved making a layer of the cellulose and lignin laden reeds of Cyperus papyrus L., split and placed side-by-side, with all pieces running in one direction. On top of this went a top layer of split papyrus, perpendicular to the first, that adhered to the bottom layer of papyrus. A starchy adhesive may have been used to make the two layers of papyrus stick together better. Reeds of papyrus were also sharpened into pens.
Recovery of ancient papyri (the plural of papyrus) began in the mid-18th C. amid debris from Mt. Vesuvius and continued into the 19th C. in Egypt. Many documents written on papyrus were unimportant and had been discarded as waste paper, but preserved accidentally. Because preservation of such delicate and already much damaged materials outside the ash or desert is a major problem, access had been limited. Now, because of the Internet, we can all enjoy these ancient papyrus documents.
Papyrology ResourcesAmerican Society of Papyrologists
Homepage with information on ASP membership, publications, meetings, and some links.
One of the best places to find Greek papyrus writing is Egypt. Starting with Alexander's general Ptolemy Soter, Greek was spoken (and written) there for a millennium.
Greek Papyri and Oxyrhynchus 2
Oxyrhynchus had been an important Egyptian city, but little besides nearby rubbish heaps remain. From these piles, 65 volumes of transcripts, texts, translations, and commentaries have been published so far. Much is correspondence, contracts, and lists -- the stuff of daily life. There are also ancient papyrus texts.
Duke Papyrus Archives
Also see: Latin Abbreviations