AN Oxford professor is under police investigation after being accused of selling fragments of an ancient version of the Bible to a museum in the United States.

Dirk Obbink, a papyrologist at Oxford University, is alleged to have taken at least 11 fragments of the famous Oxyrhynchus collection of Egyptian, Green and Latin papyrus fragments and sold them to the privately-owned Museum of the Bible in Washington DC.

The alarm was raised after the archaeological treasures went on display at the museum which opened two years ago at the US capital and cost over $500 million.

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It remains unknown how much the museum paid for the artefacts but it has already pledged to fully cooperate with the investigation and to return any unlawfully acquired objects.

The treasures were stored in a secure room in the Sackler Library in Oxford, but belonged to the Egypt Exploration Society.

The Sackler, in St John Street, holds a large portion of the classical, art historical, and archaeological works belonging to the University of Oxford.

The society has now launched an investigation to check whether the 11 pieces of the ancient Bible that turned up in the US are the only artefacts missing from the collection held at the library.

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri collection was discovered during late nineteenth and early twentieth century excavations at an ancient Egyptian waste dump.

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It it believed to consist of about half a million papyri documents, but as most of them are crushed into corn-flake-sized fragments, since 1898 scholars have managed to transcribe only 5,000 of them.

Most of the documents are of an administrative nature, but scholars found among them important secular literary works as well as some previously unknown Christian texts of both the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible.