What did a scribe do when there was a pre-existing hole, tear or abrasion in their writing material? Did they write around it? Under it? Over it? Patch it up? Write through it?
A few years ago, I realized that not many scholars were drawing attention to this phenomenon. For example, I found many cases where authors made no mention of scribes intentionally avoiding damages in their writing material. But it has become clear to me that scribes were accustomed to negotiating faults and imperfections. In my mind, this raises all sorts of questions about the materiality of written artifacts and even the manufacturing process.
Anyway, I put some of my questions and thoughts down in an article recently published: "Scribes Avoiding Imperfections in Their Writing Matierials," Archiv für Papyrusforschung 61.2 (2015): 371-383.
"This article examines the phenomenon of preexisting imperfections in papyri. Rarely noted by modern commentators, many ancient scribes were forced to deal with different kinds of papyrus damage, such as holes, tears, abrasions, stains, cracks, cuts, etc. This study offers several examples of preexisting damage and demonstrates how some scribes attempted to avoid it. It also raises questions about how modern editors might take scribal avoidances into account in their transcriptions."
A downloadable PDF of this article may be found here.
As I admit in the article, these are all very simple questions. But they are questions rarely asked by editors of papyri. A more significant question is how papyrologists should indicate when a scribe "skips" damage in their writing material. In the editor's transcription? In the notes? I cannot answer that question for the field, but I think there is much more to think about in this regard.