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An archaeological discussion of writing practice: Deconstruction of the ancient Egyptian scribe

Pinarello, MS; (2014) An archaeological discussion of writing practice: Deconstruction of the ancient Egyptian scribe. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

This thesis contests the reified status of ‘scribe’ and its Egyptological construction as social category, and returns to the ancient Egyptian writing practices attested in the archaeological record. It aims to deconstruct the ‘scribe’ category and to suggest a new perspective that takes into account historiography and museum displays, particularly in the way that specific object types—i.e. pen and palette—have been used to fetishise the ‘scribe’ as a distinct class of people in ancient Egyptian society. As a first step, the thesis presents a complete dataset of those two object types so far recorded from documented excavations, to test the distribution and detailed context of each example. The research then further concentrates on archaeological methods to recontextualise writing implements, presenting a case study on the material culture from the ancient Egyptian site of Balat ‛Ayn Asīl in the western desert. There, a more diffuse material culture of writing practices provides a marked contrast with the dataset of conventionally defined writing equipment. From this comparison, the thesis questions the image of literacy as primary marker of social distinction—one of the most persistent assumptions in Egyptology and its approach since the discipline’s birth. In conclusion, study of the power of communication and the role played by writing needs to be detached from the bias involved in elite-centred reconstructions. In the case of ancient Egypt, as in modern societies, a simplified dichotomy between ruling literate elite and ruled illiterate mass does not match the archaeological evidence of complexity.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: An archaeological discussion of writing practice: Deconstruction of the ancient Egyptian scribe
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > VP Research
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > VP Research > Library Services
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1451376
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