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For more than 1,000 years, the inhabitants of Oxyrhynchus dumped garbage at a series of sites out in the desert sands beyond the town limits. The fact that the town was built on a canal rather than on the Nile itself was important, because this meant that the area did not flood every year with the rising of the river, as did the districts along the riverbank. When the canals dried up, the water table fell and never rose again. The area west of the Nile has virtually no rain, so the garbage dumps of Oxyrhynchus were gradually covered with sand and were forgotten for another 1,000 years.
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Because Egyptian society under the Greeks and Romans was governed bureaucratically, and because Oxyrhynchus was the capital of the 19th nome, the material at the Oxyrhynchus dumps included vast amounts of paper. Accounts, tax returns, census material, invoices, receipts, correspondence on administrative, military, religious, economic, and political matters, certificates and licenses of all kinds—all these were periodically cleaned out of government offices, put in wicker baskets, and dumped out in the desert. Private citizens added their own piles of unwanted paper. Because papyrus was expensive, paper was often reused: a document might have farm accounts on one side, and a student’s text of Homer on the other. The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, therefore, contained a complete record of the life of the town, and of the civilizations and empires of which the town was a part. –Wikipedia

Fiction Writing Prompt: Write a story inspired by the Oxyrhynchus Papyri.

Journaling Prompt: What is the most revealing thing an archaeologist would find in your trash?

Art Prompt: Oxyrhynchus Papyri

Non-Fiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience about the Oxyrhynchus Papyri and what we’ve learned from it.

Photo Credit: amysh on Flickr

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