Repairing papyri in Photoshop

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Repairing papyri that have sustained damage over the millennia using Photoshop is something I want to spend some time doing on this project. Whilst employing a conservationist to take the papyri out of their glass containers and reassemble them is a costly and time-consuming affair, using Photoshop to digitally reassemble pieces is much less so (and more fun for me, too).


The process of repairing papyri

So, what is it I’m doing when I’m repairing papyri? The purpose is to pull together and realign broken sections of papyrus. The example I’m using here is from a copy of the Amduat at the Garstang Museum. The Amduat was a funerary text whose contents depicted the nighttime journey of the sun-god through the underworld. This particular copy belonged to a lady called Tjaty from the 21st Dynasty of ancient Egypt (1077–943 BC).

One of the details I’d particularly wanted to pick out was an over-sized nTr hieroglyph (the Egyptian word for ‘god’). Unfortunately, as you can see from the photo below, there’s a bloody great break running right down the middle. This is likely to be from where the papyrus was rolled up in antiquity and then dried out and split.


Step-by-step repairs

I’d taken two photos of the hieroglyph; one with the glyph a little to the left of the image and the other to the right. This meant that when I pulled it together in Photoshop, I had some extra room to play with.

I loaded both photos into one Photoshop document as layers (you can see the layers as two thumbnails at the right of the screen in the screenshot below). Using the Quick Selection tool, I made a rough selection of all the papyrus to the right of the break in the top layer (the white, dashed lines):

A screenshot of Photoshop showing the papyrus - part of the papyrus is being selected to then be masked


I then zoomed in to refine my selection to make sure I’d included all the little jagged bits:

A screenshot of Photoshop showing a closeup of some of the selected papyrus where the selection is being refined


I used the selection to create a mask on the layer, hiding everything not included in the selection. The mask is visible below next to the top thumbnail in black and white; white is visible, black is hidden. What you see in the slightly odd-looking picture below is the left-hand side of the underneath layer showing through the hidden part of the top layer:

A screenshot of Photoshop showing the two sections of papyrus currently overlapping before any amendments are made


The next stage was to move the top layer around until it lined up with bottom layer. Unfortunately, both edges of the papyri have curled up ever so slightly at the bottom, making it impossible to bring them together properly without huge amounts of messing around:

A screenshot of Photoshop showing the repaired papyrus before straightening and cropping


In the closeup below, you can see that the layers aren’t perfect; you can still see the break. I could, if I wanted, use Photoshop to cover up the break and paint in bits of missing ink. However, this is a step too far for me. It’s one thing to remove empty space, but another to actually add in what wasn’t already there.

A screenshot of Photoshop showing a closeup of the repair


The last step was to straighten and crop the image to get the composition right.

A screenshot of Photoshop showing the image being cropped


And here’s the finished product. I hope you’ll agree that it makes for a much more comprehensive and aesthetically pleasing image.

The final repaired and properly cropped image


I hope I’ve managed to explain what I’m doing here, but if any of it leaves you wondering, please do ask in the comments below. This post is a demonstration of some of the work I’m doing and not meant to be a Photoshop tutorial.


All photos in this post © Julia Thorne.

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3 Responses

  1. […] numerous hours in the photographic suite, many more vying with Photoshop, followed by several weeks of nail biting, hoping my photos would make the grade, finally, we got […]

  2. […] then spent many more hours in front of my computer, processing the images. Some of the pieces of papyrus needed a bit of ‘repair’ in Photoshop; the pieces were fragmentary and I pulled them back together to make a more aesthetically pleasing […]

  3. […] both the photography I’d done – including techniques I use such as focus stacking and repairing damaged papyri in Photoshop – and how to handle your camera better in low light situations (an expansion of the blog post I […]

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