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Library Library
Glossary

Codex

a manuscript volume, especially of a classic work or of the Scriptures

palette

small slab of stone used for grinding cosmetics in pre-dynastic Egyptian times; later, large ceremonial palettes bearing carved reliefs commemorated important events.

Ptolemaic

The Ptolemaic Dynasty ruled Egypt from 323 BC to 30 BC. It was a Macedonian or Greek dynasty in origin.

scribe

someone who could read and write; a highly respected title in ancient Egyptian times

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Ancient Egyptian Tools for Writing
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The equipment of the scribe who writes hieroglyphs consists of a rectangular case of pigment and reeds, a pot of water for wetting the pigment, and the reeds themselves.

The rectangular case was called a palette. Most palettes were rectangular pieces of wood of about 20 to 43 centimeters long by 5 to 8 centimeters wide and 1.5 centimeters or deep.

Small circular cavities held the pigment at one end and many examples of palettes have a long central hole for the reeds, which are usually 15 to 25 centimeters long. The scribe cut and bruised one end of the reed to maximize absorption of the pigment. To write, he moistened the cut end with water and brushed it over the pigment.

Reeds with split ends, which produced a finer line, gave hieroglyphs and hieratic script an awkward, crabbed appearance. These were used in Egypt after the third century BC.

The most common pigment was carbon black. Red of ochre, an earthy mineral oxide of iron, was used to highlight the subject heading and dates.

Ink with lead was not used until the Ptolemaic period. It seems to have been used only by scribes writing Greek. The demotic part, even in the same document, would still be written with the traditional carbon.

The most common surfaces for writing, especially in hieratic, were pottery, boards, papyrus, and leather.

Small flakes of limestone or pieces of broken pottery, called ostraca by Egyptologists, were used for any temporary or short records, from informal letters to legal records to literary texts, such as the Story of Sinuhe. They were used in the first stage of drafting longer accounts but were not suitable for long-term storage because of their irregular shapes.

Wooden boards, which could be wiped clean and reused, also provided a good surface for accounts and calculations as well as for literary texts.

Ancient Egyptian papyrus was cut from the stem of the plant Cyperus papyrus into strips that were never more than 50 centimeters long. Strips were laid out side by side and a second layer was placed over them. The two layers were beaten together and the natural juices in the plant provided enough adhesive material to bind the fibers together. The resulting sheet had a smooth light-colored writing surface. Individual sheets, about 48 centimeters by 43 centimeters at full size, could be joined together to create long rolls.

The oldest roll was found in the tomb of the First Dynasty Hemke at Saqqara. The roll remained the natural form for books until the Roman period when it was replaced by the codex, a set of individual sheets bound together in the manner of a modern book.

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Scribe's Palette with Four Reeds
Scribe's Palette with Four Reeds

Writing Materials of Tutankhamun
Writing Materials of Tutankhamun

Three Pen Cases
Three Pen Cases

Collection of Writing Equipment
Collection of Writing Equipment

Cutters to Prepare Sheets of Paper
Cutters to Prepare Sheets of Paper

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