University of Helsinki
The Department of Classical Philology



Papyrology in Finland

Cartonnage Papyri

Carbonised Papyri





Cartonnage Papyri


© Jaakko Frösén 1987

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The preservation of the human body was an important part of Egyptian beliefs in the life hereafter. After the New Kingdom (ca. 1550—1070 BC), the mummification techniques reached their peak, and anthropomorphic linen cartonnages served as the innermost coffins of the deceased. The earliest linen cartonnage cases date from the reign of Osorkon I (22nd dynasty, ca. 925—890 BC). Later during the Ptolemaic and early Roman periods (third century BC — first century AD), recycled waste papyri, i.e., public or private documents withdrawn from use and sometimes even literary text fragments were used as raw material for cartonnages. The cartonnage was manufactured by putting several layers of linen or papyrus on top of each other and moulding it into a human form with the help of a cast. Finally, the surface of the cartonnage was painted and decorated, and especially masks covering the face might also be gilded.

The collection of papyri in the Helsinki University Library derives from two fragments of cartonnage. They were published in 1986. Some are from the meris of Polemon in the Arsinoite nome, but the bulk of the papyri are documents from an archive of the oikonomoi of the Heracleopolite nome, dating back to the 2nd century BC.

In summer 1993, Helsinki received fourteen fragments of cartonnages from the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. It was agreed that the Finnish team would conserve the cartonnages and publish all Greek papyrus texts derived from them. The conservation work was carried out during the following academic year. Our closest partner in the project in Berlin was the late Dr. William Brashear, who later gave us further documents deriving from another cartonnage to be published. These texts were published in Erja Salmenkivi’s doctoral thesis, Cartonnage Papyri in Context. New Ptolemaic Documents from Abu Sir al-Malaq, in 2002.

Conservation work on cartonnages has also been carried out in the Petrie Museum in London and the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. Work on the cartonnage papyri from the Berlin cartonnages conserved in Helsinki also continues.