How’s your cursive? 3000 years from now, will archaeologists of the future know your works by your handwriting? At least one man from ancient Egyptian history has that honor, although he wasn’t a pharaoh.
Known as “Scribe of the Tomb,” his name was Amennakhte, Son of Ipuy, and 30 centuries after he lived in Ancient Egypt, archaeologists recognize his handwriting with enough certainty to declare him the creator of various documents and maps. Apparently his hieroglyphic cursive style is so distinctive there’s no doubt when an archaeologist sees it.
Working for Ramses IV, this Scribe created one of the earliest maps that showed the topography of the land as well as the geological content of the rocks. Somewhere around 1150BC, Pharaoh sent more than 8000 men to a certain area to dig the gray-green bekhen stone needed for statues and temple walls. The expedition is well documented on this map, known as the Turin Papyrus, drawn up by Amennakhte. He depicts the quarry and its vicinity, right down to the groves of tamarisk trees and the water well, with its shadow. A thorough man!
A highly placed administrative official in the Theban region, Amennakhte has many other surviving works besides the amazing map. He had the skills required of a scribe, as well as the ability to draw and chart, and enough interest in detail to pay attention to the geology of a region. His mastery of these elements is displayed on another papyri – an architectural plan of Ramses IV’s tomb in the Valley of Kings, which is said to be the most elaborate and sophisticated tomb plan to survive from ancient Egypt. Amennakhte’s distinctive handwriting labels the parts of the tomb, giving the dimensions, and on the back he put his own last will and testament.
The Turin Papyrus was found in his family’s tomb. Even the ruins of his house still survive.
The village where Amennakhte’s house and tomb were found is Deir el-Medina, home to the artisans who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings during the 18th to 20th dynasties of the New Kingdom (ca. 1550–1080 BC). The settlement’s ancient name was “Set Maat” (translated as “The Place of Truth“). Tomb builders, artists, craftsmen and their families lived there during a period of about 400 years, leaving a rich record of daily life in that era (much of it unearthed from the garbage dumps but still…). Archaeological digs have been going on there since the early 1800’s and a great deal is known about the inhabitants. Maybe someday I’ll have to write a blog on that.
Amennakhte also recorded the first labor strike known in history, when tomb workers under Rameses III went on strike, claiming they weren’t receiving the agreed upon food and other wages. In his various reports, the Scribe named names, quoted the claims of the various workers, and described his own attempts to remedy the situation and get everyone back to work. Pharaoh was off fighting a war at the time, not paying attention to these administrative details.
As a writer who creates paranormal tales set in this general time frame of ancient Egypt, I find the idea irresistible that after all these centuries, we can know so much about one person. (Well, and his dad, Ipuy, although I have no idea what Amennakhte’s father did, the name has passed down through history to us as well. Happy Father’s Day, Ipuy!)