The documents include philosophical texts and copies of stories by the Greek poet Homer.[See Images of Early Christian Inscriptions and Artifacts] The business and personal letters sometimes have dates on them, he said.

These considerations led the researchers to conclude that the fragment was written before the year 90.

With the nondisclosure agreement in place, Evans said that he can't say much more about the text's date until the papyrus is published.

"We're going to end up with many hundreds of papyri when the work is done, if not thousands." Debate Scholars who work on the project have to sign a nondisclosure agreement that limits what they can say publicly. One is that some of the owners of these masks simply do not want to be made known, Evans said.

"The scholars who are working on this project have to honor the request of the museums, universities, private owners, so forth." The owners of the mummy masks retain ownership of the papyrus sheets after the glue on them is dissolved.

Evans told Live Science, "We're not talking about the destruction of any museum-quality piece." The technique is bringing many new texts to light, Evans noted.

"From a single mask, it's not strange to recover a couple dozen or even more" new texts, he told Live Science.

"We're recovering ancient documents from the first, second and third centuries.

Not just Christian documents, not just biblical documents, but classical Greek texts, business papers, various mundane papers, personal letters," Evans told Live Science.

Roberta Mazza, a lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Manchester, has blogged her concerns about the text as has Brice Jones, a doctoral candidate in religion at Concordia University.