CAIRO: A recycled papyrus fragment, bearing what could be the earliest copy of the Gospel of Mark, has been discovered in the mummy mask of a 1,900-year-old Egyptian mummy currently in the U.S.A, according to LiveScience news website.
The papyrus fragment was extracted from the mummy mask by using a technique based on unfastening / dissolving the glue, used to fix it, without harming the ink on the paper.
Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament Studies at the Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia, told LiveScience the gospel fragment was dated by examining the handwriting and using carbon dating.
“The process has revealed that the papyrus fragment was written before the year 90. It was recycled and used to create a mask that was worn by the mummy of an ordinary woman,” he said.
Unlike funerary mummy masks of Egyptian pharaohs and queens, which were usually made of gold and inlaid with precious stone, “masks of ordinary people were made of papyrus, linen or other cheap materials,” archaeologist Sherif el-Sabban told The Cairo Post Tuesday. “Mummification was extremely expensive and only royal people, high officials and viziers could afford its cost.”
Several mummy masks of ordinary people have been excavated in Egypt and are on display at museums including the Egyptian museum. None of these masks, however, are as well-preserved as royal ones, according to Sabban.
A mummy mask, usually with the features of the head and chest of the deceased, was worn over the wrapped head of the mummy to protect the deceased’s face but, according to the ancient Egyptian tradition, could also act as a substitute for the mummified head in case it was damaged or lost, Sabban added.
Evans told LiveScience he was interested in how long the papyrus was used before being recycled as it could shed light on how biblical texts were copied over time.
“We have every reason to believe that the original writings and their earliest copies would have been in circulation for a hundred years in most cases – in some cases much longer, even 200 years,” he said.