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Oxyrhynchus: A City and its Texts, Virtual Exhibition: The Site

Flinders Petrie: letter to Hunt

The noted archaeologist Flinders Petrie spent some time at Oxyrhynchus in 1922, and sent this atmospheric letter to Hunt.

He writes: ‘We have been here three weeks, after clearing some hundreds of 1st dynasty tombs at Abydos.

‘We are in the old palm grove [no doubt the setting for the excavators’ house], immensely changed by a railway running across the Bahr Yusuf, & a sebakh line going round the back of the town, with shrieking trains going out in the dark before dawn.

‘Sebakh has been curried enormously, & much papyrus found. I am buying up all I can get, especially every scrap of uncial literary; feeling my way as to values by not always offering enough for Byzantine accounts &c. There are three or four literary pieces of 100 words or so. As these are bought, we shall have all to London. Would you be open to looking over all the pieces & giving us — as a matter of business — a report on them in June? There is St. Louis University rampant to get some to edit, but if you wish to publish any piece specially I hope you would do so.

‘I am trying here to get some idea of the place, planning it, and working out the great colonnade (over 27 columns long) and the immense abbey, to get some sense of it; also the mound-tombs of III-VIth cent. away to the north.

‘I hear that the best papyri are found about 20 ft down in the high mounds. We shall not try to do anything exhaustive, but rescue a little of the architecture & plans before they all vanish. I am waiting to hear some reports on sites further south, which might be more in my line.’

Petrie published the results of this visit in Tombs of the Courtiers and Oxyrhynkhos (1925). We hear no more of the ‘immense abbey’: it may be that this was an early misconception of the structure that proved to be the great theatre.