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1,600-YEAR-OLD PSALMS BOOK WILL GO ON DISPLAY IN CAIRO

The world's oldest known bound book, a 1,600-year-old Book of Psalms, goes on display Sunday almost eight years after it was discovered in a little girl's grave.

"What a wonderful day for me!" Nasry Iskander, Egypt's chief conservation expert, said on Saturday. "We've gone through so much to save it."The Book of Psalms, protected by a humidity-controlled showcase designed by Iskander, is the new centerpiece of the ancient manuscript wing of Cairo's Coptic Museum.

Gawdat Gabra, an Egyptologist and Coptic scholar who is the museum's director, has studied the book since it was found in November 1984. Its 490 handwritten pages were stuck together, and experts had to go through a painstaking process of separating each parchment leaf.

Egyptian archaeologists discovered the book in a poor Christian cemetery at Al-Mudil, 85 miles south of Cairo and 25 miles north of the Greco-Roman city Oxyrhynchus.

The book dates to the late 4th century and is bound between wooden covers stitched with leather.

"Workers found the grave of a little girl, about 12 years old," Gabra said. "Under her head was this book with a tiny ankh, the pharaonic symbol of life."

Early Christians incorporated the ankh into their cross.

When he first saw the book, all but two pages were stuck together and damaged by water and salt. The script was an obscure Coptic dialect.

First he recognized a number, then the beginning of a psalm.

"I wouldn't leave until I'd copied the two pages. I knew I had a treasure," Gabra said.

Iskander said initially he didn't know if he could save the book.

He gradually freed page by page by lowering and raising the humidity level. Six pages remain stuck, however, and Iskander said they will be left alone until science offers him a solution.