Ancient Egyptian Writing Materials and Techniques -- By: Joseph L. Thimes

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 13:3 (Summer 2000)
Article: Ancient Egyptian Writing Materials and Techniques
Author: Joseph L. Thimes


Ancient Egyptian Writing Materials and Techniques

Joseph L. Thimes

From earliest times, scribes performed important functions in ancient Egypt. An important government official, he produced documents on papyrus, stone walls and columns. In the Old and Middle Kingdoms (2600–1785 BC), scribes also served as painters and draftsmen. They wrote dispatches to foreign governments, provided accounts for administration of both state and temple matters, and penned reports for the flourishing civil service bureaucracy.

As most officials in ancient Egypt, the office of scribe was only open to men, and often scribe’s sons followed their father’s profession. Among the few in the kingdom who could write, scribes were usually assured of prosperity and a relatively easy life, even exempted from manual labor and taxation! So respected a position, other officials often had statues of themselves depicted sitting in the scribal position.

The Scribe’s Toolkit

The earliest depictions of scribal equipment comes from the second dynasty. In the Tomb of Hesire the Scribe, Hesire is seen carrying scribal equipment (including a very small palette, tubular pen case, linen bag or water pot and shoulder strap) in his right hand and holding the scepter and staff of his high offices in his left. Called both chief of the king’s scribes and chief of physicians and dentists, Hesire served Pharaoh Djoser.

The scribal kit was practical, efficient, complete and portable. During the Middle and New Kingdoms, a complete kit included a palette, rush pens, tubular pen containers, small water pot, ink grinding kit, pigment supply, linen thread or strips, seal, small knife and inkstand box (see the author’s “For Young Archaeologists” article in this issue).

Burnishing instruments, often a large smooth pebble or block of ivory or wood with a short rod-like handle, smoothed irregularities

A full view of the painting on the north wall of the inner chamber of the 19th century BC rock-cut tomb of a provincial governor named Khnum-hotep III at Beni Hasan, Egypt, 160 mi south of Cairo. Probably the work of scribes, the full-color scene is famous for the Asiatic traders visiting Egypt on the right side of the third panel. They are approaching Khnum-hotep, the large figure on the right side of the scene. Heiroglyphic explanations appear in each panel. A group of seated scribes is seen working in the lower right. For a full treatment of this painting, see Bible and Spade, Winter-Spring 1983.

in the papyrus. The palette, usually a narrow wooden piece about 12...

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