For Young Archaeologists An Ancient Scribe’s Tool Kit -- By: Joseph L. Thimes

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 13:3 (Summer 2000)
Article: For Young Archaeologists An Ancient Scribe’s Tool Kit
Author: Joseph L. Thimes

For Young Archaeologists An Ancient Scribe’s Tool Kit

Joseph L. Thimes

Any good worker needs the right tools to do their job well, and ancient Egyptian scribes were no exception. Among the few people in the kingdom who could read and write hieroglyphics, they had a very important job. Scribes worked for the Pharaoh or temple priests and needed to be ready to do their work any time and place they were called. Only men worked as scribes, and sons often followed their fathers into the profession. They were paid well and lived with Egypt’s upper class.

While each scribe filled out his kit exactly as he (and his boss) wanted, there was regular equipment used by every scribe. Here is a typical royal scribal kit from the time of King Tutankhamun (ca. 1340 BC).

  1. 12-inch long wooden palette which held ink cakes and rush pens
  2. 8 to 10 inch long rush pens with chewed fiber tips, made from the stems of rushes growing on the banks of the Nile
  3. Ink cakes usually of black (soot) and red (ochre)
  4. Hank of linen thread used to tie a rolled-up finished document
  5. 5 inch diameter smooth pebble used to smooth (or burnish) papyrus sheets
  6. Tortoise shell used to hold water
  7. Leather bag to hold extra color pigments and other supplies
  8. 12 inch long pen case made of a reed stem that could hold up to 30 rush pens
  9. 2 inch scribe’s seal

The scribe would take a sheet of papyrus and smooth it with the pebble. Dipping the rush pen into the water in the tortoise shell and then into the ink cake on the wooden palette, he would write hieroglyphics. After finishing the document, he rolled it up and tied it with the linen thread. He sealed the rolled up document with wet clay and imprinted it with his personal seal.

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