"What a wonderful day for me!" Nasry Iskander, Egypt's chief conservation expert, said on Saturday. "We've gone through so much to save it."
The Book of Psalms, protected by a humidity-controlled showcase designed by Iskander, is the new centerpiece of the ancient manuscript wing of Cairo's Coptic Museum.
Gawdat Gabra, an Egyptologist and Coptic dialect scholar who is the museum's director, has studied the book since it was found in November 1984. Its 490 hand written pages were stuck together, and experts had to go through a painstaking process of separating each parchment leaf....
The book dates to the late fourth century and is bound between wooden covers stitched with leather.
. . . When he first saw the book, all but two pages were stuck together and most were damaged by water and salt. The script was an obscure Coptic dialect. First he recognized a number, then the beginning of a psalm. "I wouldn't leave until I'd copied the two pages. I knew I had a treasure," Gabra said....
Iskander gradually freed page by page by lowering and raising the humidity. Six pages remain stuck, however, and Iskander said they would be left alone until science offers him a solution.
The psalms are delicately handwritten in a dark brown, iron-based ink. A few passages are written over in black carbon ink, apparent attempts to repair damage It's evident where fingertips turned pages.
The photograph accompanying the article shows the book lying open in Dr. Gawbra's hands, pages apparently separated but still cockled and unsewn. The writing, which is in a single column on each page, shows up fairly well. It is aligned at the left margin and very uneven at the right, like present-day poetry.