In my previous post on the Tura Papyri, I mentioned that the books are said to have been discovered in 1941 during the clearing of quarries south of Cairo for use by the British military. The earliest detailed account of the discovery, which wasn’t published until 1946, describes this cleaning operation as follows:
“Some preliminary works, entrusted to private companies, were necessary to cut back or reinforce dangerous sections of rock, to clear out accumulated debris, to level the ground, in short, to adapt these ancient quarries to their unexpected use. It was by carrying out works of this kind, in quarry no. 35, that workmen brought to light a considerable body of papyrus” (Quelques travaux préalables, confiés à des entreprises privées, furent nécessaires pour abattre ou consolider les pans de rocs dangereux, évacuer les débris accumulés, niveler le sol, bref adapter ces antiques galeries à leur utilisation imprévue. C’est en exécutant des travaux de ce genre, dans la carrière no. 35, que des ouvriers mirent au jour un ensemble considérable de papyrus).
–Octave Guéraud, “Note préliminaire sur les papyrus d’Origène découverts à Toura,” Revue de l’histoire des religions 131 (1946), 85-108, at p. 85
A little further digging turned up some fascinating visual material related to these works. Earlier this year, the YouTube channel of the Australian War Memorial uploaded some fantastic archival film footage of the clearing of the Tura quarries.
There is almost an hour of footage, although not all of it is actually related to Tura. The portion that does concern Tura seems to mix footage from 1941 and 1942 and shows the quarries at different stages of preparation for use by the military. The clip below is about a minute and a half long and shows some of the work of removing rubble from the quarries.
You can really get a sense of the scale of these operations. And from photos elsewhere online, such as the website of the Imperial War Museums, one can see the quarries after they had been outfitted for military use.