Recent developments at Deir el-Medina
and the latest news
An Italian online article by Alessandro Rolle entitled "Il villaggio operaio di Deir el-Medina" published at Mediterraneo Antico on March 23rd 2021 is available in English translation below. The original text can be read at
The workers' village of Deir el-Medina : The organization of work: the scribes of the tomb
In the last study the guardians of the tomb and the door-keepers were outlined, using the large amount of documents concerning these categories of workers. We will now try to analyze the functions and work of one of the most important figures of the working community: the scribe of the tomb. In ancient Egypt, the percentage of schooling was very low: in the community of Deir el-Medina, in which there were figures with a high level of specialization, it reached around 7% in the Ramesside period. There was obviously a real school where students studied and learned to read and write: there is a famous Egyptian saying that puts the student's ear on his back! The community of the village, however, was an exceptionality for the Egyptian society of the time and, apart from Pa Demi, the literacy rate in the New Kingdom can be attested at 3-4% and then regressed in the Late Era. Thanks to his ability to read and write, the scribe played a very important role in the administration of the tomb and in the administration in general: he was in close contact with the highest authorities and controlled directly by the vizier himself. The Egyptians themselves generally attributed a prominent role to this profession, so much so that there are statuary and parietal attestations of characters depicted as scribes, while not actually exercising this profession, in the act of reading or drafting a document. Emblematic in this sense is what we read in the literary text “The Satire of the trades”, in which the figure of the scribe is particularly praised. One of the tasks of the scribe of the tomb was to check that all the workers were present by noting the absences, with the relative reasons, on ostraka and on papyrus sheets. A copy of these notes was then sent to the vizier's office. In the Egyptian museum of Turin there are some of these papyri which are known as the "Journal of the Necropolis". The number of scribes present in the team according to Černý is two, one for the right side and one for the left side with, in the eighth year of the reign of Ramesses XI, the presence of four scribes of the tomb, there being also one for each side of servants attached to the team (Bibl.1).
In disagreement with Černý is the Egyptologist Valbelle who believes instead that there was only one scribe of the Tomb for both sides until the time of Ramesses XI, only to become two from that period onwards. To generate this different vision is a matter of nomenclature with the presence of other scribes with different functions, but still called sS. It is now widely accepted by most scholars that for most of the history of Dei el-Medina there was only one scribe present: in this sense, for example, the ostrakon Berlin P 12654 in which we read pA sS in the singular. Thanks to the numerous documents found, we are aware of the names of a considerable number of scribes: only a few, however, have the title: "scribe of the tomb" in hieratic or "scribe in the Seat of Truth" in hieroglyphic inscriptions. Those that are not mentioned with the relative title are very likely to have come from other administrations, coming only sporadically in contact with the team. In some documents the scribe is indicated by the simple title sS, in others it reads sS-qdwt.
Like the foremen, whom we will see later in the study, the inheritance of the office was tacitly accepted even for the scribes, although this custom was not followed to the letter. In fact, if the study of the documents revealed the presence of a family with six generations of scribes (Amennakhe, Harshire, Khaemhedje, Dhutmose, Butehamun and Ankkefenamun), we are also aware of at least three cases of scribes whose father was not scribe, with two of them not belonging to the village. In addition to noting the absences of the workers and foremen with the relative reasons, it was up to them to record everything that took place in the construction site of the tomb. During the strikes of Ramesses III in the year 29, the scribes, for example, in addition to describing the episodes in some detail, tried in some way to resolve the issue, just as happens today with our modern trade unionists. Together with the foremen who, although hierarchically superior, can be considered equal to them, they supervised the daily distribution to the workers of the work tools, the conservation of which in the warehouses, located just north of the village, was considered the primary responsibility of the scribes so much so that they often they assigned themselves the pompous title of "Supervisor of the Treasury in the Seat of Truth." They also supervised the correct distribution of wages, paid in kind as rations of bread and barley to produce beer. In moments of crisis, which will lead to the series of strikes that we will analyze in a forthcoming issue, they finally worried about the provision of wages, as can be read, for example, in the Turin papyrus, cat. 1895. They were part of the court of the artisan guild and, for the simplest cases such as the division of a property between heirs, they were immediately able to resolve the question. Having a high level of education, they wrote, probably for a fee, letters or documents of various types (disputes, inheritances or inscriptions of texts on funerary objects) for the inhabitants of the village. In addition, being high-ranking characters, they attended the village court, were witnesses of oaths and interpreted the oracles of Amenhotep I in the processions within the village, in writing the questions posed at the foot of the statue of the deified ruler. Although there are many documents bearing the names of scribes, with a few dozen names currently found, the information concerning them is for almost all of them quite sparse.
Below is a list of the known scribes with some brief biographical notes.
iw f n Imn - Iuefimen His name is found in the Turin Papyrus, catalog 2018 A: he was scribe of the left side of the servants of the Tomb in the years 8 and 9 of Ramesses XI. From Papiro Torino cat. 2075 we know that in the year 19, presumably of Ramesses IX, he received fish from three fishermen from the left side of the tomb. It is also mentioned in a letter, datable to the reign of Ramesses XI, in which he receives the order to go with a gatekeeper to try to persuade a recalcitrant fisherman to bring wheat for the workers.
iw f n xnsw - Iuefenkhons (?) 2. Indicated only in the Turin Papyrus cat. 2021, together with the scribe Dhutmose, as a witness to a marriage in the late 20th Dynasty. We have no other news of him.
Imn m ipt - Amenemope Active scribe in the years 35 and 37 of Ramesses II. We also find him with the title of "Scribe in the Seat of Truth" and he is the owner of the TT215 tomb in Deir el-Medina where he is also referred to with the title of "Team Leader in the Place of Eternity". In addition, some other monuments belong to him: an architrave (Turin 1516), three door jambs (Turin suppl. 9508, Turin 1517 and one from the Bruyere excavations), an offering table from the same excavations, a statuary group (Berlin 6910), a relief (Cairo J. 43591), a graffiti from the Valley of the Kings, now in the Metropolitan of New York and, perhaps, the stele Torino 6137 where it is indicated as "Royal Scribe in the great seat". This is one of the scribes whose family tree we know thanks to the discovery of the tomb: Amenemope was the son of Nakht, sculpted in the statuary group of Berlin and in the 1517 jamb of Turin, and of Nofretite, also present in Berlin. He married Hathor, known as Hol, depicted in tomb TT215 and also in the Berlin group as well as in the 1517 doorframe. The married couple had two sons: Minmose, present in the 1517 door frame and Amenemope. Also from the Berlin group, source of much information, we know that his father was "priest of Amon, lord of the Thrones of the two Lands of Kush". In the statuary group, we also read that Amenemope used the title of "priest and scribe of Amon, lord of the Thrones of the two Lands of Kush". Considering that it is a temple in Nubia it is plausible that Amenemope was not born in the community of workers.
Imn m ipt - Amenemope In the Ostracons Cairo 280, IFAO 1319, Berlin 12641 and DM 45 he is referred to as “scribe of the Tomb”. Active in years 1 and 2 of Ramesses IV, he is also mentioned simply as a scribe. He was probably the son of the scribe Minmose, owner of the tomb TT335.
Imn nxt sA ipwy - Amennakhte son of Ipuy. Tomb scribe from the sixteenth year of Ramesses III: founder of a family that boasts six generations of scribes.
Imn nxt sA pntAwr - Amennakhte son of Pentaur. Scribe. We are only aware of it from a document dated to the twentieth year of Ramesses III, mentioned together with Amennakhte son of Ipuy.
Imn nxt - Amennakhte Scribe. His name appears in the Abbott Papyrus, in the sixteenth year of Ramesses IX. Of uncertain identification, it could be Amennakhte son of Amenhotep, a draftsman active in the seventeenth year of Ramesses IX, a character we find in the Necropolis newspaper.
pwnS - Amennakhte called Punsh. Son of Hay. We find him mainly referred to as a scribe and once as a royal scribe. There is also another Amennakhte, evidently a very common name. This character, however, is not a scribe, but a simple worker during the reign of Ramesses IV, as we read in ostrakon DM 41. Probably during a break from work he copied a passage from the "Book of the dream" present in the Chester Beatty III papyrus, at the end of the copying his title and his name: Amennakhte, son of Khaemnun. The interest in this character is that, despite not being a scribe, he was able to read and write.
ImnHtp - Amenhotep We find it attested with the title "scribe of the tomb", active under the reign of Ramesses IV and his successors. In addition, there are some papyri and ostraka, unfortunately of impossible dating, in which it appears: from the ostrakon Cairo 247 we know that he received lapis lazuli for painting.
ImnHtp - Amenhotep Scribe. Active at the end of the XX Dynasty: beyond the name we do not know any other details.
Imnxa - Amenkha From ostrakon DM 38 we know that he was hired as the scribe of the tomb in the thirty-second year of the reign of Ramesses III, a few days before the death of the same king.
Inpw m HAb - Inpuemhab It is always indicated with the simple title of scribe. However, considering that he was in service from the sixty-sixth year of Ramesses II up to at least the eighth of Merenptah, it is almost certain that he also had the title of scribe of the tomb. Since he was the only scribe to bear this name, he can almost certainly be identified with the owner of the tomb TT 206, unfortunately badly damaged, in which a wooden ushabty was found, now preserved in Oxford, on which the name of the owner:.
anxa - Ankha Scribe in the Seat of Truth. Known thanks to the tomb TT335 of his father, the “stonemason of the lord of the Two Lands in the Seat of Truth” Nakhtamun. We find it in the first half of the reign of Ramesses II. We have a letter from him in which he asks his son Nubemshas to send bread for the "boys". Unfortunately we don't know who these guys are.
anx f - Ankhef This character presents the title written in three different ways: scribe, scribe of the Tomb and scribe in the Seat of Truth. His father, Butehamon, was also a scribe.
axpt - Akhpe (t). Tomb scribe and scribe. Active in the year 17 and 18 of Ramesses III. We find it again in the year 21 of the same sovereign.
wnnfr - Unnefer Always indicated only as a scribe. From ostrakon DM 339 we know that his home was inside the village. He was an active member of the workers' court and interpreted oracles when the statue of Amenhotep I was carried in procession. His name appears among the absences from work at the Valley of the Queens. It operated between the eleventh and twenty-fourth year of Ramesses III.
wnnfr sa anxt (w) - Unnefer son of Ankhet Scribe of the right side of the tomb in the years eight and nine of Ramesses III.
bAy - Bay Royal Scribe of the Seat of Truth. His name is found in some graffiti, unfortunately impossible to date. We are aware from two ostraka of a scribe of the same name: probably the character is the same, albeit with two different titles. From the study of these two documents it is possible to consider Bay active in the reign of Sethi II or Merenptah-Siptah.
bknmwt - Bekinmut Scribe of the Seat of Truth. We find his name in a graffiti of the royal cachette, the burial of the priest of Amon Pinudjem II, datable to the tenth year of the reign of Siamun. It is, at present, the last known scribe of the Tomb.
bwthimn - Butehamon Son of Dhutmose, we find him with the title of "Scribe of the Tomb" and "Scribe of the Seat of Truth".
pAy - Pay Scribe of the Seat of Truth. His name, present only in a palette exhibited in the Louvre, written using rather than does not allow us to date this character either in the nineteenth or in the twentieth dynasty.
pry - Peroy This is an unclear character: his name, with the relative title of Scribe of the Seat of Truth, is found on a stele of the University of Cambridge. The strangeness is given by the style of this stele which is not entirely compatible with the monuments from Deir el-Medina.
pwr sA dHwty m HAb - Puer son of Dhutemhab Scribe of the right side of the team in the eight and nine years of Ramesses XI, he was also active in the reign of his successor.
pnfrmdjed - Peneferemdjed His name is found in numerous graffiti and is indicated with various titles: scribe of the Tomb, scribe, Royal scribe even scribe of the Treasury. Thanks to the discovery of two stelae (Bibl.3) we know that he was the son of Amennakhte, son of Ipuy. He practiced the profession of scribe in a year three, without being able to bind him to a particular sovereign.
pxrw - Pekheru Scribe of the Seat of Truth. The sovereign under which he served is unknown: given the spread of this name during the 20th Dynasty, it is plausible that he lived in that period.
pAxy - Pakhy Attested as a scribe of the Tomb, scribe in the Seat of Truth and also simply as a scribe. The only news about him is that he was the son of the scribe Butehamon.
pAsr - Paser In documents it is always indicated with the simple title of scribe. He was a very important character: he is present at the distribution of the grain rations for which he takes care of the measurement. He is also a member of the village court. From ostrakon Berlin 12654 we are aware of a legal dispute he won against the designer Nebnuf. It had a very long life: the first document attesting Paser is datable to the reign of Sethi II and the last to the second year of the reign of Ramesses IV, about 52 years later. Under this ruler Paser was therefore already an octogenarian.
pASdw - Pashedu In addition to the titles of scribe, scribe of the Tomb and scribe of the seat of truth, we also find him as "scribe and priest-reader". He begins his career in the sixth year of Sethi II, when the vizier Praemhab gives him orders to return to the team. It is still active during the first year of Ramesses-Siptah. We have another Pashedu among the scribes. The spelling of the name in this case is incomplete: it ends in the hieroglyph. He is simply referred to as a scribe and probably worked during the reign of Ramesses II. His actual profession as a scribe is not certain: it is possible that he is actually a draftsman. The Berlin Papyrus 8523, datable to the XXI dynasty, bears the name of another scribe of the Tomb: Painebdjed. Apart from the name, attested only in this papyrus, we have no other information.
Pnprai - Penprai He is found as a scribe of the Tomb, as a scribe in the Seat of Truth, as a scribe but also as a scribe in the Horizon of Eternity, active between the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st. His father was the uab priest Pehirenthanakhte. There is another Penprai, known as a scribe in the Seat of Truth. It should be the son of the previous one: however, it could be an incorrect interpretation of graffiti. In fact, when reading his son Penprai it is not certain that the word son refers to Penprai or to Pehirenthanakhte: in this case Penprai would be the same scribe mentioned above.
pntAwr - Pentaur Tomb scribe and scribe. The period of activity of this scribe goes from the sixth year of Sethi II to the twenty-ninth of Ramesses III. He was a member of the court and, among other monuments, a statue representing him was sculpted. The only case known so far, we are aware of his date of death thanks to the papyrus of the strike of the year 29 in which we read, at the beginning of the document: "Year 29, fourth month of the summer season, day 34, death of the scribe Pentaur, son of Amennakhte ”.
pntAHwt - Pentahut Remembered with the title of scribe and, in his last year of work, as "scribe of the Army", at the service of the temple of Medinet Habu. We are not sure when he lived: the only certain dates are the 17th of Ramesses IX and the three of Ramesses X. His father on Sobeknakhte, probably a scribe himself.
minms - Minmose Scribe, scribe in the Seat of Truth and, in the stele Louvre cat. 218, Royal scribe of the Secrets in the Seat of Truths. He was the son of the scribe Amenenmope and the father of another scribe of the same name of his grandfather. He worked between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth dynasty. In no administrative document, however, does his name appear.
minfr - Minefer We only know of him that he was the son of the scribe Butehamon. It is found with the title of scribe in the Seat of Truths.
mrims - Merimose Known, with no other indication than a scribe, from Graffiti 318 and 332. It is impossible to establish, at present, the period in which he lent his work.
mrira - Merira Scribe, he was the son of the worker Amonmose. His name was found in two ostrakons, together with the scribe Amenemope, in a year 35 which surely refers to Ramesses II.
mHtSt - Mehaft Attested as a scribe of the Tomb from Graffito 1300. The period in which he lived is uncertain, perhaps the XXI Dynasty.
nbnfr - Nebnefer Royal scribe and scribe in the Seat of Truth. He was the son of Hor, a stonemason and, almost certainly, Nebnefer was also a stonemason and not a scribe. We find it on two ostrakons (Cairo 763 and 765) cited together with Ankhof and Minefer. It operated between the end of the 20th Dynasty and the beginning of the 21st.
nbnTr (w) - Nebnecher Scribe in the Seat of Truth or simply scribe. From the reading of Ostrakon DM 317 it is clear that Nebnecher was a contemporary of Ramose and Pay, therefore active in the middle of the reign of Ramesses II. In this document Nebnecher calls dad Pay, but we are not sure of this relationship: it could be a term used as a sign of affection.
nbxp - Nebkhep His name is found in the Book of the Dead of Turin, cat. 1768. He was scribe of the Tomb and son of Butehamon.
nfrHtp - Neferhotep It is found with the addition "boy", to distinguish him from the father of the same name. It is a scribe in the Seat of Truth or, simply, a scribe. He lived at the end of the reign of Ramesses III. In one of his letters, addressed to the vizier Ta, he ensures that he is working assiduously on the tomb of the sovereign's children.
nxmmwt - Nekhemmut Scribe in the Seat of Truth. Active under Ramesses III. From some anonymous letters addressed to him the figure of a not very pleasant character emerges. In one we read, as a note of contempt: "you are not a human being"; in another we read: "You are very, very rich, but you do not give anything to anyone ... .... you are a bad boy". Let's say that it did not collect much support! The village of Deir el-Medina is an inexhaustible source of this type of messages: some of these will be analyzed in the continuation of the study.
nAxtsbk - Nakhtsobek Tomb Scribe. He lived in an unspecified period under one of Ramesses III's successors.
nsimnpt - Nesimenopet Tomb Scribe. At work during the reign of Ramesses IX. He took part in an interrogation regarding the famous thefts in the necropolis, in the nineteenth year of the last Ramesside. We have two letters of this character: one written by the scribe himself and addressed to the singer of Amun Mutenhopet concerning problems on some fields; the other is a letter sent to him by the singer of Amon Henuttaui: from its reading it is clear that most likely this second singer may have been the wife of the scribe himself.
nspnfrHr - Nespenefer Apart from the title, Scribe of the Tomb, we know nothing. Epigraphic studies place it between the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first dynasty.
nspHrntA - Nespherenta From the sarcophagus we know that he was Royal scribe, scribe of the Youth of the Lord of the two Lands in the Seat of Truth, Superintendent of the Treasury of the Horizon of Eternity and Superintendent of the works in the House of Eternity. Beyond the titles, however, we know nothing: it was probably active in the XXI Dynasty.
rams - Ramose Scribe in the Seat of Truth in the first part of the reign of Ramesses II.
He was the son of Imenemhab and Kakaia. His father was not a scribe, but an attendant.
The splendid Pyramidion (Turin 1603) is present in the Turin Museum, exhibited in what
is currently room two, dedicated entirely to Deir el-Medina.
© Museo Egizio di Torino
Photography Lenka Peacock 2020
HAy - Hay Royal scribe or scribe in the Seat of Truth. Son of Amennkhte and brother of the namesake of his father.
Hwy - Huy Scribe or, from the reading of a graffiti: "Year 37, fourth month of the flood season, day 14, the scribe in the Seat of Truth Huy, son of Dhutimaktef". He lived in the time of Ramesses II and was contemporary with the scribe Ramose. In Ostrakon Cairo 513 his name appears, together with another worker, among the absent. We have three letters addressed to him and one written by him. Its name can be read in four graves: TT215, TT219, TT250 and TT336. In the last two there is also his wife's name: Nefertkha.
Hri - Hori Tomb Scribe. We are facing the one who is the most named scribe. The first attestation, indeed doubtful due to the handwriting, is from the year 23 of Ramesses III. With certainty, however, we find it mentioned in the papyrus of the strike dated to the year 29 by the same sovereign. The last certain date is the seventeenth year of the reign of one of the successors, Ramesses IX. There are numerous documents that refer to Hori: from letters also written by him to some papyri. It is also possible that he was the author of a teaching, according to Gardiner's reading of the ostrakon Gardiner 2. However, there are also other scribes and workers with this name: scribe Hori, active in the fifth year of the reign of Sethi II. ; scribe Hori, who lived at the end of the 20th Dynasty; a scribe of the vizier Hori, datable to the year 13 of Ramesses IX; a scribe of Mat (reading however uncertain) Hori, a contemporary of the more famous Hori and a stonemason of the same name.
Hriwr - Horiur Tomb Scribe. His grandfather was Ipuy and his father Amennakhte. Among the scribes there is also another Horiur. He was Harmose's son. His title is a simple scribe: his name is known only thanks to a plea from the workers addressed to him in the Turin 111 Papyrus, dated to the year 8 by a Ramesside ruler, perhaps the ninth.
xamHD - Khaemhedj Tomb Scribe. Son of Horiur.
xns (w) ms - Khonsumes We find it mentioned three times in the documents found so far: in the year six of an unspecified ruler, in the year eight perhaps of Ramesses IX and in the third year of Ramesses X when his name appears in a short note in the Necropolis newspaper. However, it is not certain that this character was actually a scribe.
Sobeknakhte His name appears only on Graffito 1627 with the title of scribe of the Tomb. He probably lived in the latter part of the 20th Dynasty.
sbksnb - Sobekseneb In the Turin Papyrus 76 we read that he was scribe of the Tomb. He worked in the year 16 of Ramesses IX.
stHmss - Sethmess He appears only once, in the British stele 217, in the company of the stonemasons Sety and Nebra with the title of scribe. However, it is possible that he too was a stonemason and not a scribe.
qnHrxpSf - Kenherkhepeshef Scribe, Tomb scribe and scribe in the Seat of Truth during the reigns of Ramesses II and Merenptah. His tomb, mentioned in the Turin 3 Papyrus, was very large and was located in the southern part of the cemetery of Deir el-Medina: now unfortunately it has been completely lost. We also find this scribe in Papyrus Salt 124 where he is accused of having accepted a "bribe" from a certain Paneb and having saved him from an accusation. From the study of the texts relating to this scribe, the figure of a character emerges who did not make honesty his own banner.
kAnxt - Kanakhte Its title was "Head of Works in the Horizon of Eternity". He lived in the latter part of the 20th Dynasty.
kAnr - Kaner Royal scribe in the Seat of Truth. We find his name on ostrakon Cairo 504 dated to the seventh year of Merenptah.
tA - Ta Tomb scribe and royal scribe in the Seat of Truth or simply scribe. He was part of the family of the scribe Amennakhte.
TAy - Tjay Tomb scribe and royal scribe in the Seat of Truth or simply scribe. He was also part of the family of the scribe Amennakhe. It was active during the reigns of Ramesses II and, perhaps, of Sethi I.
TAry - Tjaroy It is the scribe of the Tomb Dhutmose, who was so nicknamed. He is a descendant of Amennakhte and the son of Ipuy.
DAy - Dyay Tomb Scribe. We read in Ostracon Cairo 261 that he was the son of the worker Nekhemmut. He lent his work under Ramesses IX. However, the name Dyay is otherwise unknown in the New Kingdom. Correct spelling could result in the name reading Any: Any.
1 Papiro Torino, Cat. 2018 (anno 8 di Ramesse XI).
2 The reading of the hieroglyphic signs, as these are in a bad state of conservation, is uncertain: it could also be called Iuefenmont.
3 Davies stele and Berlin stele 20989.
4 The day, however, is of uncertain reading.
The site of Deir el-Medina has produced a large amount of documents, many of which are ostraka, thanks above all to the excavation carried out in the 1950s in the Great Pit, located in the north-western area, artificially dug by the working community to search, unfortunately in vain , for water. These documents outline an extremely lively society, certainly a very modern one. By way of example, we will highlight a few for now.
In the ostracon DM328, dated to the reign of Ramesses II, we read the complaints that Pabaki sent to his father, the painter Maaninakhtef, about the bad work of a worker: "I did what you told me: let Ib work with you. You see, he took all day to fill the jars with water and during the day he did nothing else ... ... the sun is setting and he is still absent ".
In another ostrakon, Leipzig 2.3, we read about some problems with the weight of food rations distributed with the accusation, addressed to the scribe Paser, of using a badly calibrated weight. Not having survived complete, we do not know if Paser was a scammer or if the weight actually presented problems.
Ostrakon DM546 contains a curious promise of payment by the washerman Bakenuerel in which we read that if this washerman should not pay within the third month of winter, day ten four pieces of cloth to the worker Pashed, it would authorize him to be given 100 blows with a stick and to pay the worker double the value of the goods.
Ostracon Berlin 12630, dating back to the 20th Dynasty, perhaps during the reign of Ramesses III, has a different tenor. Mesu, a worker, declares to a woman, whose name is not given, that her husband, the scribe Amennakht, has not yet paid the agreed upon, a calf, in exchange for a sarcophagus. Mesu talked about it with Paakhet who, in exchange for a bed, promised to bring him the calf. Obviously the calf was not brought and Mesu concluded by requesting the return of the bed and the sarcophagus.
Ostrakon DM 133 reports three appeals to the oracle of King Amenhotep I for the policeman Amenkha to guarantee the payment of 9 deben for the use of a donkey owned by the painter Harmin.
We read on the ostraka of many disputes concerning donkeys, evidently a very important animal for the community: on the other hand, Egyptians are still very often seen running around on donkeys! Little or nothing has changed!
Ostrakon Prague 1826, datable to the 19th Dynasty, shows a scene of a family quarrel. In this document a certain Takhentyshepset writes to her sister Iy complaining about her husband. “I had a fight with Merymaat, my husband. I'm going to divorce you, he keeps telling me because my mom does not supply us with the amount of barley needed for bread. …… Your mother does nothing for you and neither do your brothers and sisters… ..In short, you will have to go back: take note! ”. We do not know how the story ended. In many other ostraka there is news of the progress of the works.
An ostrakon, Cairo 25644, reports Neferhotep's curious complaint about a woman who works with him: what kind of girl is she? Does she need food at all times?
These are just a few examples: surely many were written by scribes seeking extra compensation. A more in-depth analysis of these messages will be the subject of one of Alessandro Rolle's upcoming releases. We very much look forward to reading it!
Thames Valley Ancient Egypt Society held an online Zoom lecture on the 6th of March 2021 entitled “Revealing the Practice of Tattooing in Ancient Egypt” with the speaker Dr Anne Austin, an Assistant Professor of Anthropology & Archaeology at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Her research combines the fields of osteology and Egyptology in order to better understand daily life in ancient Egypt. Distinctively, she uses data from ancient Egyptian human remains and daily life texts to reconstruct ancient Egyptian healthcare networks and identify the diseases and illnesses people experienced in the past.
The practice of tattooing in ancient Egypt is rarely attested. Egyptologists have identified tattoos on very few mummies spanning Pharaonic Egypt’s more than 3,000 year history. Textual evidence is virtually silent on the practice and art historical evidence is often obscure. In 2014, the mission of the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale (IFAO) made an incredible find - an extensively tattooed mummy from the necropolis at Deir el-Medina. With over 30 tattoos, this woman completely redefined what is known about tattooing in ancient Egypt. Her tattoos were identified on her arms, shoulders, back and neck. They were exclusively figural tattoos, sometimes hieroglyphic in nature. It was proposed that the tattoos served a function of being a divine encounter as they would have been visible to the local population. Studying her tattoos brings new insights about the practice - at the top of her left and the right shoulders and on her neck as well (over her voice box) - she had wadjet eye and nefer symbols resembling a formula often related to the goddess Hathor in New Kingdom graffiti. Other tattoos on her body were difficult to interpret but many relate to the goddess Hathor - there were two cows facing each other, wearing menat necklaces. On her back there was a clump of bent papyrus stalks with a water sign underneath. That one matched the same symbol found on the floor of Hathor temple at Deir el-Medina. The extensive use of Hathoric imagery in these tattoos showed the incredible amount of religious agency women could hold during a time when the title “priestess of Hathor” was not even attested.
Dr. Austin argued that tattoos had more complex functionality in ancient Egypt than was anticipated in the past, when scholars suggested that for Nubian women tattoos served as their ethnic identity marker. Also during the New Kingdom tattoos could identify a woman as a dancer or Hathor as well as being associated with Nubia or because Hathor was associated with Nubia.
Early excavations at Deir el-Medina predated the studies in human archaeology so we do not have a precise record of human remains at the site as many remains were moved around and some were not mentioned by Bruyère in his Rapports. The goals of the team are to identify where all human remains are at Deir el-Medina.
Since 2014, the team has used infrared imaging - when the skin is photographed in infrared and tattoos, invisible to naked eye, become instantly clear and visible - to identify dozens of new tattoos among the many unpublished human remains at the site. This talk presented the most recent findings from the bioarchaeological team of the 2019 and 2020 IFAO mission at Deir el-Medina, whose lead is Dr. Austin. These additional tattoos indicate that many more individuals were likely to have been tattooed at Deir el-Medina. The designs and placement of tattoos varied broadly. The team is finding a large number of tattoos on mummies’ hips, thighs, inside their lower arms and on their lower backs, which is the common location to find tattoos.
Symbolism and motifs of the tattoos are also being looked at as well as the question how typical they are. For example Bes is very common in ancient Egyptian art but until now, where he was identified on the front thigh of a woman, there was no evidence for Bes being shown in tattoos. Most imagery is naturalistic - animal deities and floral motifs are predominant in the arena of tattoos. No hieroglyphic texts have been found so far.
The team does not focus just on human remains but also on questions of their connection to artistic depictions of tattoos and on their match to the physical evidence, as was the mentioned example of Bes. It is becoming evident that the motifs of tattoos that appear on ostraka, in paintings adorning tomb walls, on figurines, even cosmetic spoons, might be reflecting similarities observed in daily life in ancient Egypt.
Dr Austin is arriving at the conclusion that tattooing was probably more frequent than we thought. More exploration will lead to better understanding as at the moment many tattoos are being missed as they are not looked for. She is considering whether the women at Deir el-Medina could have had a parallel artistic tradition focused on daily life - with symbolic motifs inscribed on bodies. If tattooing in Deir el-Medina was done on women but also by women, we should reconsider, if other art in the village could have been produced by them.
Combining the physical and art historical evidence, this talk offered some of the most comprehensive evidence we have to date on the practice of tattooing in ancient Egypt. Dr Austin’s next research project will focus on the practice of tattooing in ancient Egypt and its potential connections to gender, religion, and medicine. In addition to her interest in Egyptology and osteology, she works on improving archaeological data management practices through her participation in an international, collaborative ethnographic research study on archaeological field schools.
Temporary exhibition “Archeologia Invisibile” (Invisibile Archaeology) at the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy
The purpose of the temporary exhibition is to illustrate the principles, tools, examples and results of the meticulous work of reorganisation of information, data and knowledge made possible today by the application of science and technology from other disciplines to the study of the archaeological findings from the Turin based collection.
The virtual tour is a powerful immersive tool, developed by two students of the course in Cinema and media engineering of the Polytechnic of Turin in collaboration with the creative Robin Studio, who, using 360° cameras, have created a 3D faithful reproduction of the exhibition. Thanks to the virtual tour it is possible to explore the exhibition rooms, "browsing" all the elements, watching the videos and perusing the individual finds.
Enrico Ferraris graduated in Egyptology at the University of Turin and then
obtained his PhD in Pisa with a thesis entitled: "Celestial objects and stellar cults
in Egyptian figurative and textual documentation". He worked for the excavation
mission of the University of Turin in Alexandria in Egypt (2001-2007) and for the
Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo as part of the
"GEM - Grand Egyptian Museum" project (2004) . Since 2013 he has been curator
at the Egyptian Museum of Turin and is responsible for the archaeometric analysis
program of the remains of the intact tomb of Kha and Merit, called
TT8 Project (2018-2023). He curated the temporary exhibition Invisible Archeology
(currently in progress).
The sarcophagus of Butehamon and its videomapping: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgR1fG9ag4Y
Tattoos at Deir el-Medina