None of that is out of the ordinary at Green Library, where students and professors are always seeking knowledge.
It's the age of the texts that makes this effort unusual.
The texts are mainly in Greek and Demotic, an ancient Egyptian language, and they are being translated into English.
The words were written in Egypt 2,000 years ago, mostly between 300 B.C. and A.D.30.
Welcome to the Papyrological Institute, an annual effort that was held for the first time at Stanford during July.
The institute drew 18 graduate and post-graduate students from 15 universities around the world, including John Sutherland, a second-year Stanford doctoral student.
The attraction, for the students and professors, was about 70 texts from ancient Egypt that had been restored well enough to be studied. They were encased in large pieces of glass, resembling oversized photo slides.
They are among hundreds of documents donated to Stanford in the 1920s by a Stanford alumnus who purchased them from an antiquities dealer in London.
The words are written on papyri, an ancient version of paper made from plant stalks that were overlapped and hammered flat. The ink was made from coal and water and written with reeds, somewhat like ancient fountain pens. The ink, the words and the papyri all have endured for 2,000 years, long enough for students to try to decipher their meaning.
But the scraps of papyri weren't recovered from an ancient library. They had a, well, different, slightly spooky origin.
"Most were trashed and wrapped around mummies," Sutherland said.
One small piece is exactly in the shape of a footprint.
So the scraps are part of what could be deemed an ancient recycling program.
The texts include government documents, land deeds, personal correspondence and other writings.
Some come from ancient village associations and record the bylaws and even list fines for violations.
"We're learning how to date them," Sutherland said — the style of writing differs from century to century.
There's a purpose to the research in learning how people lived 2,000 years ago and what was important enough for them to write down. The results will be published in a book co-edited by three professors who conducted the Papyrological Institute. One wonders whether their book will still be readable 2,000 years hence.
Sutherland didn't start out as a college student intending to decipher ancient texts.
"I had planned to go to law school," he said. It wasn't until he was halfway through undergraduate school at Georgetown University that the lure of the study of classics caught him. He also remembered the enthusiasm a high school teacher had for the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Sutherland hasn't picked a dissertation subject yet, but he is interested in Roman socio-economic history. While an undergraduate, he wrote an honors thesis on poverty in Roman Egypt.
"The papyri helped me answer some questions about the common man," Sutherland said. "There was a lot about economics that can be answered or at least approached through the papyri."
What did Sutherland and other students learn in that room in Green Library?
One of the texts set down the rules for an Egyptian village association. It included the amounts of fines for anyone who made a complaint to the Pharaoh before bringing the complaint to the association first.
The message seemed to be: "Talk about it in the village first before you go running to the government."
Somehow, after 2,000 years, modern neighborhood or homeowners' associations may not be that different from what went on in ancient Egypt.
A sense of community is what mattered, then and now.
It is fascinating to see words reflecting humanity's struggle to live together that were written 2,000 years ago, even if they did wrap a mummy's foot.
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