By Philip Sherwell, New York
They are tattered yellowing fragments of bygone civilisations, ancient manuscripts that open a remarkable window on previous millennia, including the earliest days of Christianity.
But papyrus scrolls are also now increasingly hot items in the distinctly 21st Century world of the online auction trade.
A rectangular scrap measuring about 4.5 inches by 1.5 inches and featuring 15 partial lines of Homer’s epic poem The Iliad in the elegant hand of a 4th Century Egyptian scribe was just [DEC] picked up by an unidentified European buyer for £16,000 after a feverish Internet auction battle.
That price was way above the posted estimated but is typical of the sums that collectors will now spend to lay their hands on these fingerprints from the past.
Indeed, it is not just modern art that has been setting jaw-dropping records at auction recently - so have ancient scrolls.
When a fragmentary parchment sheet from the 3rd century AD featuring portions of Paul’s epistle to the Romans was bought at Sotheby’s for £301,000 auctioneers and antiquity experts alike were stunned.