Papyri data capture project (DC12C)


The DC12C Papyri project will produce a data capture system specialised for data and metadata associated with papyri from the Museum of Ancient Cultures at Macquarie University. The system will allow for accurate recording, classification and subsequent retrieval of data from these unique textual artefacts from ancient Egypt, mostly written in Greek, Demotic Egyptian or Coptic and dating from the period 500 BCE to CE 500. The project will remedy the lack of access which has limited the potential of the Macquarie University papyri collection as an object of research and information.


Manuscripts written on papyrus, a pre-modern writing surface made from strips of the papyrus plant, have been recovered in vast quantities from Egypt, where they have been preserved in the low-humidity environment of the Nile Valley and nearby oases.

As written documents surviving directly from antiquity, bearing both literature and the documents of everyday life, texts on papyrus have a central role in the reconstruction of the ancient world. As artefacts of antiquity, they serve several major functions:

  • They preserve copies of works of ancient literature that have been lost
  • They preserve the documents of everyday life in ancient Egypt: letters, petitions, household accounts, tax lists, census returns, rental agreements, church and temple records
  • Such documents provide an unparalleled window into ancient languages.

Scholars are hindered in their efforts to assess the totality of papyri that exist in collections worldwide and to join long-separated parts of the same manuscript by the lack of effective databases of images and metadata on the papyri. These enable quick and easy access to the collections without the necessity of handling fragile artefacts. This project seeks to remedy this for the Macquarie University papyrus collection, and potentially others, through the construction of a data and metadata capture system.


The primary objective of the project is to improve the capture of data and metadata concerning papyri as they are assessed, catalogued and subsequently digitised.  At present this process is laborious and does not provide automated mechanisms for searching or access.  The project will accomplish this by creating an easy to use metadata recording system for use with antiquities.  The system will then provide for remote access to the collected data and metadata.

Access to the data, the digitised Macquarie University papyri collection, will be provided to domestic and international researchers and interested members of the general public.

The system will also provide metadata harvesting endpoints to allow items and collections in the system to be catalogued and indexed by other systems.  The project aims to provide two metadata harvesting methods.  The first is an OAI-PMH RIF-CS feed that is compatible with Research Data Australia (RDA).  The second is an Advanced Papyrological Information System (APIS) feed. APIS is a worldwide standard for recording and exchanging papyri metadata.  Providing an APIS feed will make the developed system compatible with other digital papyri collections held around the world.


The project is expected to deliver the following benefits:

  • the Department of Ancient History’s (DAH) efforts will become better known worldwide
  • digitised images of papyri and associated metadata can be stored centrally
  • papyri data can be shared with external researchers
  • general information and thumbnail images will be accessible to the general public
  • DAH can interact with  (APIS) and/or  to share information automatically in the format required by such systems
  • DAH can interact with ANDS’s Research Data Australia (RDA) to share the information as a suite of collections, i.e. advertising the collection in different ways
  • the system will enable access control over restricted areas of the site, proper administration of backups, availability, etc.

This project is supported by the Australian National Data Service (ANDS). ANDS is supported by the Australian Government through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy Program and the Education Investment Fund (EIF) Super Science Initiative.

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