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Of Marks and Men

Daniel Soliman defended his thesis on 15 September 2016.

Daniel Soliman
15 September 2016
Leiden University Repository

The Functional and Historical Context of the Theban Workmen’s Marks of the Royal Theban Necropolis

Supervisors: Prof.dr. Olaf Kaper and dr. Ben Haring

In early as well as in modern civilization, a writing system may exist alongside of a system that makes use of graphic signs without direct phonetic values. In modern societies, examples of such signs are traffic signs or non-textual logos. In ancient societies we find seal emblems, pot marks, and so on. Like writing, these signs – or marks – are important conveyors of identity. Yet they have not been systematically studied. In Ancient Egypt such signs are often identity marks. They mostly convey ownership or production information.

This research project focuses on the systems of identity marks used by the inhabitants of the village of Deir el-Medina. These people were responsible for the construction of the royal tombs in Egypt during the New Kingdom. They applied their signs as ownership marks on pottery or personal items, incorporated them in the graffiti which they engraved in the Theban mountains, and used them in daily administration written on ostraca.

In my part of the research, I will try to explain how exactly the marks were used in the community of Deir el-Medina – in addition to writing, and place the marks in their historical and functional context. It will be attempted to identify the individual workmen which are represented by these signs. To that effect, the documents in which the marks occur need to be dated as precisely as possible, to recognize a specific generation. Through the use of a database application, a relative sequence of all the documents will be established to that effect.

Once more is known about the marking system, its development through the generations will be analyzed. Some marks remained in use throughout a certain period of time, while the usage of other marks was shorter. It seems that some marks were hereditary, but this practice is not yet understood well enough.

Another question that needs an answer concerns the degree of literacy of the users of the marking system. Did literate scribes adopt a marking system that was formerly used by non-literates only? In order to say anything about this problem, a more detailed research on literacy in the community of Deir el-Medina is required.

In addition, the purpose of the administrative documents in which we find identity marks needs to be investigated. What is the overlap of these records and similar administrative records written in hieratic script? A comparison of records with marks to regular hieratic administration will shed more light on this matter.

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