Ancient Masks Speak – a poem by Kate Rauner


Scraps of linen or papyrus stuck together to make a mummy case or cartonnage. No one’s likely to destroy this example to retrieve the papyrus.

Mummy kings of Egypt,
Millennia gone by,
Wore masks of gold when buried
To meet gods in the sky.
No others could afford the gold,
But all seek the afterlife,
So commoners began to plan
Escape from mortal plight.
Papyrus, glue, papyrus, glue,
From used papyrus cheaper still.
Papyrus, glue, papyrus, glue,
Layers of the mask to build.
Science has discovered
How to separate the sheets
And read the ancient writing
That time could not defeat.
Business papers, letters,
The trivia of life,
Scraps of texts and poetry,
Of happiness and strife.
A bit of Christian gospel,
A fragment some revere.
Could the scribe who inked the words
Have heard with his own ears?
Hundreds if not thousands,
A treasure trove is found.
Destroy one artifact to see
The mundane and profound.
We don’t know if they reached their goal,
These mummied men and women.
These documents won’t tell us
If their souls reside in heaven.

I’m intrigued by the idea of recovering ancient texts from two-thousand year old mummy masks. While scholars will treasure all the writings, it’s a scrap of the Christian Gospel of Mark that grabs the headlines.
“The research team will publish the first volume of texts obtained through the mummy masks and cartonnage later this year. It will include the gospel fragment that the researchers believe dates back to the first century.”

A mask must be destroyed to recover the papyri, so the process is controversial. Those working on the project have signed non-disclosure agreements, so rumors and suspicions abound. If you happen to have a mummy mask (apparently there are many in private hands), I suggest you not try the methods posted on the Internet in any do-it-yourself attempt to retrieve documents. FacesandVoices


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