Switzerland's Basel University deciphers mystery of 2,000-year-old papyrus

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GENEVA, July 16 (Xinhua) -- Scientists at the University of Basel, the oldest university in Switzerland, said Monday they have solved the mystery of a 2,000-year-old papyrus that has been in the city since the 16th century.

With mirror writing on both sides, the ancient text on a scroll had puzzled generations of researchers, the university said in a press release.

The University of Basel research team discovered that the scroll is an unknown medical document from late antiquity and the text was likely written by the famous Roman physician Galen.

"This is a sensational discovery. The majority of papyri are documents such as letters, contracts, and receipts. This is a literary text, however, and they are vastly more valuable," said Sabine Huebner, professor of Ancient History at the University of Basel.

She said the scientists could say that the papyrus describes the phenomenon of "hysterical apnea" related to breathing.

"We, therefore, assume that it is either a text from the Roman physician Galen, or an unknown commentary on his work," said Huebner.

After Hippocrates, Galen is regarded by many scholars as the most important physicians of antiquity, said the press release.

The researchers from Basel made this discovery within the context of a project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

The papyri collection of the University of Basel contains 65 documents.

In 1900, at a time when papyrology was booming, the university was the first German-language university to procure a papyrus collection.

Huebner said she hopes to provide additional impetus to papyrus research, particularly through sharing the digitalized collection with international databases. Enditem

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