Prof. Dr. Verena Lepper and Tania Lipowski

Berlin-based Egyptologist and Orientalist Prof. Dr. Verena Lepper has been awarded an ERC Starting Grant. Her research project locates 4000 years of cultural history through textual sources from the Nile island of Elephantine in Egypt.

Berlin-based Egyptologist and Orientalist Prof. Dr. Verena Lepper has been awarded an ERC Starting Grant. Her research project locates 4000 years of cultural history through textual sources from the Nile island of Elephantine in Egypt. She was supported in her application by Tania Lipowski, who is responsible for third-party funding at the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

Brief information on the project

  • Acronym and title: ELEPHANTINE: Localizing 4000 Years of Cultural History. Texts and Scripts from Elephantine Island in Egypt
  • Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Verena Lepper
  • EU-Specialist: Tania Lipowski
  • Host institution: Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Berlin
  • Funding line and year: Starting Grants 2014
  • Panel: SH6 - The Study of the Human Past
  • Press release

portrait photo of Professor Verena Lepper

SPK / Götz Schleser

Dr. Verena Lepper

Describe your scientific project in three sentences.

It is about the localization of 4000 years of cultural history through text sources from the Nile island Elephantine in Egypt. An international papyrus puzzle will be conducted using manuscripts in more than 60 collections in Europe and beyond. These papyri will be evaluated in terms of cultural and global history.

What is the main goal of the project?

The goal of the project is to write a cultural history of 4000 years, localized on the Nile Island of Elephantine in Egypt, using papyri and other manuscripts. Approaches from micro-, macro-, and global history will be used. Elephantine can thus be used as a case study and a model for the past, present and future.

What makes your project "excellent"? What is groundbreaking about your project? What is the unique selling point?

The project has a strong interdisciplinary focus. Very different disciplines are working together. In addition to humanities scholars, natural scientists are also needed, such as from physics and mathematics, since the project also involves the virtual defoliation of papyri. Papyri no longer have to be physically defoliated alone, but can be virtually defoliated by mathematical reconstruction with the aid of computer tomography.

80 per cent of the Elephantine material in ten different languages and scripts is unpublished and untapped. The aim is to bring this together in the form of an online database and make it accessible to the world public. It is an enrichment for the European scientific area, since the collections are mainly located in Europe.

Elephantine is a multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual and multireligious place: a microcosm and model for "big questions in a small place". Questions about multiculturalism, the organization of the family or the development of religions can be answered here. Preliminary results could serve as a basis for the application. In my case, this was a BKM-funded preliminary project, on specifically Berlin Elephantine Papyri.

What do you personally gain from the ERC project?

Personally, the ERC grant gives me the freedom to develop a new research direction. But also beyond that, it strengthens the situation and visibility of ancient studies in Germany and Europe. Special attention is paid to the "small subjects".

What was the biggest challenge in preparing the application?

The time pressure in preparing the application. I only had three weeks to write the proposal. One should avoid this and (if possible) start early(er) with the preparation. In doing so, I found it difficult to comprehensively fit the research topic into the tight formal framework. The NCP seminar was very helpful in preparing for the interview in Brussels.

How did you find out about the ERC?

The ERC is a well-known funding scheme in the scientific community. Successful ERC grantees from the Junge Akademie at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the National Academy Leopoldina encouraged me to submit a proposal as well.

What tips would you give to scientists planning to apply for the first time?

Get wise and early advice from the NCP on whether the format seems suitable. The NCP offers outline advice, which I have found very helpful. In any case, one should allow enough time to write the proposal and submit it before the deadline. It is also important to involve the research department of your own institution in time.

portrait photo of Tania Lipowski

SPK / Sandra Steiß

Tania Lipowski

How do you support scientists in the ERC application process?

First, I get an initial overview of the planned project (content, financial scope, cooperation partners, if applicable) in a personal meeting. I offer to take over the administrative side of the application, give a brief introduction to the Funding & Tenders Portal as needed, and provide information on the procedure and timeline. It is important to me that the researcher can concentrate primarily on the content of his or her project and that the application procedure, which for many seems very complex, does not act as a deterrent to scientists.

What tips would you give to scientists who are planning to submit a proposal for the first time?

It is important to start the preparatory work in good time and to first familiarize yourself with the call for proposals, the deadlines and the Funding & Tenders Portal. The documents required for the application submission should also be compiled as early as possible in case there is still a need for clarification. It should also be borne in mind that the application will be submitted in English and that strict formal requirements for the outline must be adhered to. Already at the beginning of the work, contact should be made with the research department and the administration of the institution. The services offered by the ERC's National Contact Point are also very helpful. They can answer individual questions about the application process and, if requested, can also review the draft proposals - confidentially, of course.

What advice would you give to other EU officers who have little experience with ERC grants?

In principle, applying for an ERC grant is a good introduction for research officers to both the Horizon Europe program and the Funding & Tenders Portal, as the application documents to be submitted are fairly straightforward compared to other Horizon Europe requirements and the project does not have to be carried out in a consortium with other countries. It is indispensable to familiarize oneself early and comprehensively with the Funding & Tenders Portal and to check whether all necessary entries and signature authorizations have been made for both the institution and the project. If there is still time for an information session at the National Contact Point, I highly recommend attending it, as you can get valuable tips and advice on how to apply.

What are the biggest stumbling blocks in the application process / project implementation?

In the end, time always runs out, so starting the planning process in good time is essential. Since only pioneering research is funded, the planned project must contain an innovative approach. The European Commission expects good English, so you should have your proposal proofread by a native speaker if possible. It is also very annoying if it is only discovered during the application that information is missing in the Funding & Tenders Portal, e.g. the host institution is not registered or no LEAR is named. Finally, the preparation of a realistic budget is a challenge for many scientists, which can often be mastered in advance with the help of the research unit and the administration of the host institution.

How did the ERC NCP support you in preparing your application?

I only became aware of the ERC grants through an information event organized by the NCP. During the application process, it was very helpful that the ERC NCP could be reached by phone at any time and answered all kinds of questions, whether about the budget or the Funding & Tenders Portal, quickly and very competently. Through the "short line" to Brussels, questions and problems could be clarified directly for us by the NCP ERC. Last but not least, we would like to mention the preparation course for the interview in Brussels, which prepared our scientist for this special situation in a targeted and qualified manner.

What is the significance of obtaining the first ERC grant for your institution?

Only about ten percent of applicants are successful at all in the ERC Starting Grant. For the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, the approval of our first ERC grant is confirmation that it enjoys a high reputation and international esteem as a non-university research institution. This success is of great value for the research strategy of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation as a whole, which is currently being realigned.