The Turin Papyrus: The Oldest Topographical and Geological Egyptian Map
The Turin Papyrus Map is an ancient Egyptian map that is generally considered to be the oldest surviving topographical and geological map of the ancient world - there are some older maps from outside Egypt, thought these have been described as rather crude, and more abstract in comparison with the Turin Papyrus Map.
Discovery of the Map
The Turin Papyrus Map (more precisely fragments of it) was discovered between 1814 and 1821 by the agents of Bernardino Drovetti, the French Consul General in Egypt, who was also an avid collector of Egyptian antiquities. The map is recorded to have been discovered in a private tomb in Deir el-Medina, near modern day Luxor. It is now kept in the Museo Egizio (Egyptian Museum) in Turin, Italy.
Bernardino Drovetti French Diplomat and Egyptologist 1776-1852 ( CC BY-SA 2.5 )
Deir el-Medina was an ancient village from the New Kingdom that was inhabited by the men who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Not long after the map was found, it was sold to King Charles Felix of Sardinia. In 1824, the king established the Museo Egizio in Turin, the capital of his kingdom, and the map has remained there ever since.
Main entrance of the Museo Egizio. ( Public Domain )
The Turin Papyrus Map is believed to have been made during the reign of Ramesses IV, around the middle of the 12th century BC. Investigations have shown that the map was made by Amennakhte, son of Ipuy, who bore the title ‘Scribe of the Tomb’.
The map is believed to have been prepared for one of the quarrying expeditions sent by the pharaoh to Wadi Hammamat for the quarrying of bekhen-stone, a greyish-green type of stone highly prized by the ancient Egyptians. The purpose of its creation, however, is less clear.
The possibility that this was a road map that showed the direction to the quarry has been ruled out, as only a small area of the entire journey is shown. It has been suggested that the map was more likely created as a visual record of the expedition that was to be viewed by either the pharaoh or Ramessenakhte, the High Priest of Amun in Thebes, who organized the expedition for the former.
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Reconstruction of the Map
Initially, it was thought that the various fragments of papyrus that were found by Drovetti’s men were parts of three separate papyri, which were given the names of Papyrus / P. Turin 1869, 1879, and 1899 respectively.
Later on, however, these fragments were re-combined to form a single map. The current reconstruction of the map has a length of 2.8 m (9 ft.), and a width of 0.41 m (1.3 ft.). This reconstruction is dated to the early 1900s, though several inaccuracies have been spotted. This led to the proposal of a new and more accurate reconstruction of the map in the early 1990s.
Left half of the Turin papyrus map, courtesy J. Harrell. ( Public Domain )
The Map’s Contents
In terms of content, the Turin Papyrus Map depicts a 15 km (9 miles) stretch of the Wadi Hammamat in the middle of the Egyptian Eastern Desert. The orientation of the map is south to north, meaning that the Nile’s west bank is on the right side, whilst the east bank is on the left side.
It has been observed that there is no constant scale that was used when the map was drawn. By comparison with the actual distances in the part of the Wadi Hammamat that the map depicts, however, it has been found that the scale varies from 50 to 100 meters (164.04-328.08 ft.) for each cm of the map. There are also pieces of text on the map which function like a legend on modern maps.
Wadi Hammamat. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The Turin Papyrus Map has topographical features illustrated on it. Such features found on the map include the course of the Wadi Hammamat, the surrounding hills, the bekhen-stone quarry, and the settlement of Bir Umm Fwakhir.
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Apart from this, the Turin Papyrus Map has been regarded as the oldest surviving geologic / geological map. This is due to the accurate representation of the geographic distribution of various rocks types on the map. For instance, as the wadi gravel is lithographically diverse, the different types of rocks are depicted using brown, green and white dots. Incidentally, the next known geologic / geological map was produced in France during the middle of the 18th century, almost 3000 years after the Turin Papyrus Map was made.
Right half of the Turin papyrus map, courtesy J. Harrell. ( Public Domain )
Finally, the Turin Papyrus Map is of some interest for paper-folding enthusiasts as it is the oldest known example of paper-folding. This map is found to have been folded “in the manner of a modern road map”.
In addition, the Turin Papyrus Map is evidence that ancient papyrus could, and was, folded, contrary to the mistaken view that papyrus is too stiff and brittle to be folded - a misconception arising from the fact that all of the ancient papyrus pieces we have today have been dried over the centuries in the desert, hence becoming brittle.
By Wu Mingren
Harrell, J. A., 2016. Turin Papyrus Map from Ancient Egypt. [Online]
Available at: http://www.eeescience.utoledo.edu/faculty/harrell/egypt/Turin%20Papyrus/Harrell_Papyrus_Map_text.htm
Harrell, J. A. & Brown, V. M., 1992. The World's Oldest Surviving Geological Map: The 1150 B.C. Turin Papyrus from Egypt. The Journal of Geology, 100(1), pp. 3-18.
Kurt, 2012. The Turin Papyrus Map, Gold, Myrrh and Punt. [Online]
Available at: https://traveltoeat.com/the-turin-papyrus-map-gold-myrrh-and-punt/
Lister, D., 2005. An Ancient Egyptian Map: The Earliest Known Example of Folding. [Online]
Available at: http://www.britishorigami.info/academic/lister/egypt.php
Welde, C., 2015. The Esoteric Codex: Ancient Egyptian Texts I. Morrisville, NY: Lullu.com.
Wilford, J. N., 1988. Egyptian Scroll Called Oldest Geological Map. [Online]
Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/1988/11/29/science/egyptian-scroll-called-oldest-geological-map.html