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18th dynasty ostraka

Ostraka is a general term used to describe flakes of stone or pieces of pottery used as writing or drawing material. It is also extended to cover potsherds used for the same purpose. The Egyptians used ostraka for all sorts of purposes: keeping work records, making sketches of scenes and plans, practising writing, or simply for doodling. At sites such as Deir el-Medina and the Valley of the Kings they have been found in their thousands. The examples from TT99 are somewhat more modest.

The most intriguing of these ostraka is the first one shown below (both sides), found in one of the shafts inside the tomb. Originally suggested to be a list of names, that explanation does not make sense when examined carefully. Our colleague Ben Haring in Leiden has come up with a proposal that this is actually the earliest example of a list of words in an alphabetic canon called Halaham which is known from the Bronze age onwards. For more detail, see his article, summarised here:

Thomas Schneider in Canada has come up with a further approach to this, which is summarised in various articles in 2018:


ostrakon ostrakon

Ostrakon bearing an alphabetic list (99.95.0297)

We also have a number of interesting items which came from the Senneferi shaft. Several pieces of pottery were found with what look like sketches on them. Some of these fragments appear as if they relate to an opening of the mouth ritual, and I do wonder whether these could have been preparatory sketches for some of the scenes in the tomb. Others show sketches of different types, and there is another ostrakon with some text, which is not yet clear, but also looks like a version of a text which might appear on a tomb wall.



Possible text from a tomb; it begins "seeing...", as do many tomb scenes (99.98.0437)

Sketch of a man offering to a hawk-headed deity (99.98.0165)

Sketches of persons; in the lower example, a man kneels before an offering table (99.98.0389/99.98.0450)

© Nigel Strudwick 1997-2018