About

Image: Thebes, Egypt, 1856; Source: Public Domain

ABOUT THIS PROJECT

We are a group of natural dyers from around the world working to interpret and recreate dye methods from the 1,800 year old Stockholm and Leyden Papyri. Our project schedule is mid 2021 to late 2022. In 2022, we hope to submit our findings to one or more relevant conferences, and to present one or more virtual exhibits of our finished fibre works using recreated dye methods.

This project is coordinated by Mamie’s Schoolhouse. Check out the ‘Meet The Dyers‘ page for an introduction to collaboration participants.

ABOUT THE PAPYRI

Image: Leyden Papyrus; Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the early 19th century, Giovanni d’Anastasi was the Swedish-Norwegian Vice-consul in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. During his time in Egypt, he came across several ancient papyri in Thebes (likely from grave robberies), including the Leiden Papyrus X, commonly called the Leyden Papyrus, and the Papyrus Graecus Holmiensis, commonly called the Stockholm Papyrus. He gave the Leyden Papyrus to the Dutch Government, and the Stockholm Papyrus to the Swedish Government.

Map of 2nd Century Egypt

Both papyri deal with methods for trying to create the appearance of precious metals and gems through the use of less costly ingredients. However, significant other content in the papyri deals with various methods for treating fibres in preparation for dyeing, and with a large number of methods for actual dyeing to achieve a range of colours. This makes these papyri the world’s oldest surviving written record of the craft of dyeing.

Thebes (now part of the city of Luxor) is located on the Nile River. During various periods of Egyptian history, it was the kingdom’s political and religious centre, and has historically been an important hub on many trade routes carrying knowledge and goods across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Some scholars believe that the methods outlined in the papyri likely date from much earlier than when the papyri were written in the 3rd century A.D., and likely originated, and were used, across a much larger geography than just Thebes. The brevity of many of the instructions indicates they were intended for an already experienced practitioner who would not have needed every step of the fibre preparation and dyeing process to be spelled out in detail.

TRANSLATING THE PAPYRI

The papyri are written in Greek, which became a commonly used language in Egypt after Alexander the Great conquered the region in 332 BC. Though Egyptian and Latin were also commonly used languages in the 3rd century AD, Greek was most commonly used for writing at that time.

In 1885, a translation from Greek to Latin was published. Over the next several decades, some summaries of the papyri were translated into various European languages. Finally, in 1926-7, Professor Earle Radcliffe Caley published a series of complete English translations in the Journal of Chemical Education.

None of the translators to date have been experienced natural dyers, making it possible that, in some instances, incorrect assumptions may have been made about the precise meaning of some of the original terms, leading to confusing or ambiguous language in modern translations. Therefore, at times some of the methods outlined for preparing and dyeing fibres may omit as much as they include, which is both an opportunity and a challenge for the modern dyer attempting to reconstruct these methods.

For our project, we are relying heavily on Professor’s Caley’s complete translation of the papyri, as well as on our own investigation of related academic studies of terminology, and of historically accurate materials and methods.

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