Biblical Archaeology Review 23:1, January/February 1997

The Petra Scrolls

Publication of papyri a legal obligation

By Hershel Shanks

In December 1993, when Pierre Bikai, director of the the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) in Amman, Jordan, and his team discovered a cache of burnt papyrus scrolls in a Byzantine church in Petra, he wanted to avoid the kind of publication scandals that surrounded the Dead Sea Scrolls. He decided the best way to do this was with a written contract drafted by a lawyer, spelling out in detail the rights and responsibilities of all parties involved—ACOR (the excavator), Jordan’s Department of Antiquities and the papyrologists who would conserve and decipher the fragile texts.

The contract Bikai used could well serve as a model for the publication rights to ancient inscriptions. It could even be adapted to provide for the publication of the excavation itself. Even though some may not agree with every provision in the contract, it can still serve as a checklist of the issues that must be covered in any publication agreement.

The recitations at the beginning of the contract provide that “all parties recognize the right of the scholarly community and the general public to have access to and information about the papyri, their contents, and the impact of their contents upon the course of history.”

The 152 papyri in the sixth-century A.D. hoard from Petra were divided between two papyrologists, Ludwig Koenen of the University of Michigan and Jaakko Frösén of the University of Finland.

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