Courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society

A FORTUNATE FIND. In 1896, two young Oxford graduate students, Bernard Grenfell (above left) and Arthur Hunt (above right), were tasked by the London-based Egypt Exploration Fund with excavating whatever remained of ancient Oxyrhynchus. Over the centuries, nearly all of the city’s buildings and monuments had been robbed of their stones and artifacts, leaving Grenfell and Hunt with only a few tombs and the city’s rubbish heaps to excavate. After finding little in the tombs, the two, along with a crew of more than 70 workmen, began excavating the city’s extensive garbage dump. As Grenfell noted, this proved to be “a very fortunate [choice], for papyrus scraps began to come to light in considerable quantities.” Over the next five seasons, their excavations would uncover some 500,000 papyrus fragments.