March 15, 2004
Indiana Jones fan discovers 2,000-year-old papyrus in U-M library
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—It wasn't the subject that intrigued him at first. It was the professor. "The professor moved me, not the topic," said Rob Stephan, a junior. Impressed with professor Arthur Verhoogt's presentation during freshman orientation, Stephan decided to fulfill his language requirements with Ancient Greek. And that was just the beginning.
His interests expanded to life in ancient times in the Mideast and that, in turn, led to the discovery of more than a dozen unpublished papyrus texts stored long ago deep in a library on campus, some contained surprising information about soldiers and daily life nearly 2,000 years ago.
Stephan's interest and enthusiasm for this time period grew as quickly as his appreciation for archeologist Indiana Jones, the adventurous movie character. Under the guidance of Verhoogt, Stephan put together a program of independent study that included working with artifacts at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and the University's papyrus collection housed in the Rackham Graduate Library.
He also started a job at the Kelsey where he built display cases for the "Archaeologies of Childhood" and "Individual and Society in Ancient Egypt" exhibitions. Though he had no previous training or experience in construction, the Cincinnati native excelled.
Stephan found text at the Rachkam Graduate Library that explained some of the artifacts housed at the Kelsey. He was able to make a match that, until his efforts, had remained separated and unknown. The combined text and artifact enabled him to examine life in the small town of Karanis, Egypt, as it appeared nearly 2,000 years ago.
"The match Rob made is very important to the field," Verhoogt said, "because the archaeological information more or less adds a third dimension to the textual material. The texts are coming to life by putting them in their archaeological context again."
Stephan never will forget the experience.
"Getting the opportunity to work with these unparalleled resources and enthusiastic professors has not only helped in finding what I am passionate about," said Stephan, "but it has allowed me to work with that passion at a level I really never dreamed possible as an undergraduate."
Susan Alcock, professor of classical studies, took the plans for Stephan's project to the museum's board for approval of an exhibition. Stephan will show his own findings in an upcoming Kelsey exhibition titled "Digging Up a Story: The House of Claudius Tiberianus."
"I've found that if you're passionate about something, and willing to put in some hard work, the professors here are almost always willing to go out of their way to help you succeed," Stephan said. "The friendships I've made have been just as rewarding, if not more, than the research itself."
Stephan will cut one semester off his stay at U-M to graduate in December, hoping to spend the winter term with Janet Richards, an assistant professor of Egyptology, on an excavation in Abydos, Egypt, where Richards is the project director for archaeological investigation of late Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom provincial mortuary landscape.
Contact: Joanne Nesbit