writing

writing

How Did Ancient People Carry Letters on Papyrus?

a black and white photo of a statue of a man wrapped in a cloak holding a scroll; his bearded face looks serious. A case like a bucket with a lid site beside his feet
A photo of an ancient statue of Demosthenes in the Vatican Museum by early photographer Robert MacPherson (Getty Images) https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/object/106GMS

When we think of people moving writing on papyrus, we probably think of one of the ‘bucket’ shaped cases from ancient statues of orators and paintings at Pompeii. These had a handle or straps so they could be carried like a lunchbox or worn like a backpack. A whole treatise could fill dozens of books (ie. scrolls), which could last for a century or two if they were treated carefully, so someone who wished to transport a lengthy work needed a case or capsa (logeion). This is probably not how people transported everyday letters and correspondence!

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Technologies of recordkeeping in Mesopotamian history

Although this is the end of term in Austria, I made time to hear a very exciting talk by Dr. Jens Høyrup of Copenhagen. What was billed as an overview of mathematical and scribal culture turned into a survey of Mesopotamian history from the Agricultural Revolution to the Neo-Assyrian Empire as seen through the lens of the technology of numbers. Høyrup has some provocative views, including the idea that Sumerian is descended from a creole. He also had a good overview of the transition from counting tokens to impressions of tokens to sketches of tokens to cuneiform writing. The first stage of this transition does not seem to have soaked the popular literature, and I will try to find and link a good article on it one of these days. (A famous book is How Writing Came About by Dr. Denise Schmandt-Besserat of Texas).
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