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Publish date: Sep 26, 2011

Wrestling artifact comes to sport’s Hall of Fame

The National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Stillwater, Okla., will obtain a replica of the oldest known written instruction on any sport during a special presentation on Oct. 18 at Columbia University. Afterward, the artifact will be on permanent display at the Hall of Fame.

The wrestling instruction document currently is at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia. The actual document was uncovered during an archeological dig in Egypt during the late 1800s. In 1907, the fragment became part of a batch of papyrus shipped to Columbia. Columbia was the first college in the United States to offer wrestling. 

“We plan on getting the world’s attention on this artifact,” said Lee Roy Smith, executive director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. “You have the oldest known sporting manual on the oldest sport, brought to you by the oldest wrestling program in the United States.”

Wrestling historian Don Sayenga has worked extensively with Columbia to obtain information about the artifact. Dated between 100 AD and 200 AD, it is considered the oldest instruction book discovered for any sport. 

The artifact is a guide for instructing two wrestlers through a series of standard moves and countermoves. The fragment, which is about 18 inches wide, is under the care of the Butler Library at Columbia. 

“This document helps wrestling as a sport if more people recognize that wrestling is the oldest sport,” said Sayenga. “Not only is wrestling the oldest sport, but it has indisputable artifacts recognized by other people. Scientists in other disciplines recognize this.”

Dignitaries from wrestling, politics and academia will attend the event at Columbia. Dan Gable, legendary coach and wrestler from the state of Iowa, will participate in the presentation. He is also namesake of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum located in Waterloo, Iowa.

NCAA Senior Vice President of Championships Joni Comstock also will attend. She recently was appointed to work with Olympic sports leaders to sustain those sports within the collegiate structure.

“Wrestling continues to stand the test of time as it is one of the great championships our organization sponsors,” Comstock said. “With the NCAA’s long-standing tradition in the sport, it is exciting to see something that truly celebrates its history.”