UC Berkeley Library

Hearst Papyrus

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About the Hearst Papyrus

Apart from the Tebtunis papyri, The Bancroft Library houses several other important manuscripts from ancient Egypt. One is the papyrus known in the Egyptological world as the Hearst Medical Papyrus. For the unusual circumstances of its discovery, see the next section.

The Hearst Papyrus dates to the first half of the second millennium BCE.  It contains, in hieratic Egyptian writing (a cursive form of hieroglyphic writing), eighteen columns with medical prescriptions. The ailments for which cures are offered range from "a tooth that falls out" to a "remedy for treatment of the lung" to bites by human beings, pigsand hippopotami.

The papyrus, which bears a great resemblance to another Egyptian medical papyrus (the so-called Papyrus Ebers), entered Egyptology's Hall of Fame in 1905, when George Reisner published plates illustrating the papyrus along with an introduction and vocabulary. While the contents of the papyrus have since been studied extensively, the physical papyrus itself, which is in surprisingly good condition, has not yet been the object of careful analysis. 

Purchase and Provenance

In the 1905 publication of the papyrus, George Reisner described the purchase of the papyrus as follows:

In the spring of 1901, a roll of papyrus was brought to the camp of the Hearst Egyptian Expedition near Der-el-Ballas by a peasant of the village as a mark of his thanks at being allowed to take sebach from our dump-heaps near the northern kom.  In my absence at Girga, he left the roll with Lythgoe until I should return.  He said that he had found the roll while digging for sebach two years before, that he had put it away in a cupboard in his house and forgotten it. He had found the roll in a pot among the house walls between the southern kom and the southern cemetery.  There was nothing else in the pot except this roll. His description of the pot did not enable us to identify its type.

In my opinion, considering the man, there can be no reason to doubt these statements. The man attached no value to the papyrus. He did not come again until sent for six months later; and he gratefully accepted the price given him without any attempt whatever at bargaining.
The roll was brought to Lythgoe, brutally tied up in the end of a native head-cloth (suga), and had, of course, been carried in a similar manner from the place where it was found to the village.  The damage done to pages XVI to XVIII which were on the outside of the roll was due to this treatment. The pieces broken off during the trip from the sebach digging to the village were lost; but those broken off during the trip to the house, were rescued from the folds of the head-cloth by Lythgoe.

On my return to Der-el-Ballas, the papyrus was unrolled by Dr. Borchardt and myself.  The roll had not been opened since antiquity as was manifest in the set of the turns, the fine dust, and the casts of insects. The beginning of the roll was inside. (...)