Tulli Papyrus

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The Tulli Papyrus is an oft-cited document of questionable origins that some have interpreted as evidence of ancient flying saucers.

During a visit to Cairo in 1933, Alberto Tulli, a director of the Egyptian section of the Vatican museum, supposedly found an interesting papyrus in an antique shop. The price was too high, however, and a copy was made of the text, which was then recopied, replacing the original hieratic script with hieroglyphic. It is this copy of a copy, i.e.

hieratic original → hieratic copy → hieroglyphic copy

that has been translated and widely reproduced. The copy is characterized by "deletions", where parts of the text are elided. These may be deliberate attempts to make the content appear mysterious; or they may be legitimate notations showing gaps or holes in the original manuscript.

An Italian nobleman, Prince Boris de Rachewiltz, claimed to have found the original papyrus, "untranslated and unpublished," among the papers which had been left by the deceased Tulli. In introducing his find to Doubt magazine in 1953, he described the original fragment as written in hieratic, that the script was faded, and that it had several lacunae (gaps) in the text.[1]

He named an Egyptologist, Étienne Drioton of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, as the one who had actually retranscribed it from the original hieratic script into the more familiar hieroglyphics. Drioton was not only on staff at the Cairo Museum, he was also an authority in his own right[2] and is routinely referenced by others in the field.[3] While de Rachewiltz asserts that the papyrus forms part of the library of Thutmosis III, nothing in the document refers to a pharaoh by name - somewhat regrettable, but not without precedent.[4]

The resulting transcription has been translated by Boris de Rachewiltz and several others. The content seems to revolve around "circles of fire" that flew through the sky on two separate occasions, separated by a few days. While some sources discount Rachewiltz's credentials, he was a well-known scholar, and some of his works are still used today (e.g., "Maxims of the Ancient Egyptians," translated by Guy Davenport in 1987). The quality of his translation is considered acceptable; moreover, the transcribed Egyptian text that survives stands up to scrutiny and does not appear to be an obvious hoax.

Rachewiltz's translation caused some controversy. In recent years it has been a subject of discussion in flying saucer literature. The Vatican denies having either copy made by Tulli. It is currently believed that the document had never been a part of the Vatican's collection, and remained Tulli's personal property. Upon Tulli's death it was supposedly left to a relative and lost. Lately a copy of the original transcript, as published by de Rachewiltz, is reported to have been found in a U.S. library by anthropologist and flying saucer proponent R. Cedric Leonard,[5] who proceeded to translate it (see Leonard's translation below).

In summary, the Tulli Papyrus is not a papyrus, but rather a translation of a modern transcription of an alleged Egyptian document, the location of which is currently unknown, and has only been reported by one individual (i.e., de Rachewiltz). No scientific analysis can be made without examining the original for authenticity. The so-called 'circles of fire' might possibly be explained by natural phenomena; however Leonard's preferred rendering 'fiery disks' makes this interpretation a little more problematic.

Rachewiltz's Translation[edit]

In the year 22 third month of winter, sixth hour of the day (...2...) the scribas of the House of Life found it was a circle of fire that was coming in the sky (Though) it had no head, the breadth of its mouth (had) a foul odour. Its body 1 rod long (about 150 feet) and 1 rod large, It had no voice... They hearts become confused through it, then they laid themselves on the bellies (...3...) They went to the King ..?) to report it. His Majesty ordered (...4...) has been examined (...5...) as to all which is written in the papyrus-rolls of the House Of Life His Majesty was meditating upon what happened. Now, after some days had passed over these things, Lo! they were more numerous than anything. They were shining in the sky more than the sun to the limits of the four supports of heaven. (...6...) Powerful was the position of the fire circles. The army of the king looked on and His Majesty was in the midst of it. It was after supper. Thereupon, they (i.e. the fire circles) went up higher directed to South. Fishes and volatiles fell down from the sky. (It was) a marvel never occurred since the foundation of this Land! Caused His Majesty to be brought incense to pacify the hearth (...9... to write?) what happened in the book of the House of Life (...10... to be remembered?) for the Eternity. [6]

R. Cedric Leonard's Translation[edit]

"In the year 22, of the third month of winter, sixth hour of the day [...] among the scribes of the House of Life it was found that a strange Fiery Disk was coming in the sky. It had no head. The breath of its mouth emitted a foul odor. Its body was one rod in length and one rod in width. It had no voice. It came toward His Majesty's house. Their heart became confused through it, and they fell upon their bellies. They [went] to the king, to report it. His Majesty [ordered that] the scrolls [located] in the House of Life be consulted. His Majesty meditated on all these events which were now going on.

After several days had passed, they became more numerous in the sky than ever. They shined in the sky more than the brightness of the sun, and extended to the limits of the four supports of heaven [...] Powerful was the position of the Fiery Disks.

The army of the King looked on, with His Majesty in their midst. It was after the evening meal when the Disks ascended even higher in the sky to the south. Fish and other volatiles rained down from the sky: a marvel never before known since the foundation of the country. And His Majesty caused incense to be brought to appease the heart of Amun-Re, the god of the Two Lands. And it was [ordered] that the event [be recorded for] His Majesty in the Annals of the House of Life [to be remembered] for ever."''


  1. ^ de Rachewiltz, Boris, Doubt Magazine, No. 41, official magazine of the Fortean Society, pp. 214-15, Arlington, 1953.
  2. ^ Drioton, E. & Vandier, J., Les Peuples De L'Orient Méditerranéen II - L' Egypte, Paris, 1938.
  3. ^ Emery, Walter, B., "Archaic Egypt: Culture and Civilization in Egypt Five Thousand Years Ago," Edinburgh, 1961: pp. 28, 259.
  4. ^ Budge, E. A. Wallis, Egyptian Language, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., London, 1966: pp. 194-196.
  5. ^ Leonard, R. Cedric (January 2004). "Strange Aircraft over Egypt". Retrieved 2007-04-04. 
  6. ^ De Rachewiltz, Boris, Doubt Magazine, No. 41, official magazine of the Fortean Society, pp. 214-215, Arlington, 1953.

Further reading[edit]

  • "The Tulli Papyrus". Retrieved 2007-04-04. 
  • Trench, Brinsley Le Poer, "The Sky People," Neville Spearman Limited, London, 1960.
  • Rosenberg, Samuel, “UFOs in History” in Edward U. Condon's, Final Report of the Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, Conducted by the University of Colorado, Bantam Books, New York, 1968.