Friday, 17 May 2019

Dr Elisabeth O'Connell, Lucy-Anne Skinner, Wills Barbara, Dr Michael Zellmann-Rohrer: The ‘Hay cookbook’ and associated spells on leather

The Hay manuscripts are an assemblage of seven fragmentary leather sheets bearing Coptic ‘magical’ texts and illustrations. They contain a handbook (the ‘Hay cookbook’) and formularies for protection, healing, competition and cursing. Sold to the British Museum in 1868, they were acquired in Egypt by the Scottish traveller, antiquary, draughtsman and collector R. Hay (1799–1863). The leather was darkened and the text illegible until early infrared imaging made editions possible. The ‘cookbook’ was edited by A. Kropp (1930-31), the others were published in a cursory manner by W.E. Crum (1934), and the corpus was translated into English by D. Frankfurter in 1994 (ACM 78-81, 127). Crum attributed the corpus to one writer (1934b, 194), dating the hand to the seventh century or earlier, while acknowledging that texts on leather were rare before the eighth century, and further stating that they were presumed to have been acquired from Thebes (Preface to Kropp 1930-31, xii). A new British Museum project seeks to provide a model for the presentation of archaeological artefacts bearing texts by providing a full record of scientific analysis; conservation approach and treatment; a new complete edition and translation of the Coptic texts and an integrated analysis of their illustrations (now more visible using new imaging techniques); and an extended discussion of the cultural context of production. While the archaeological context is unknown, the objects themselves tell us a great deal about their context.

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