Volume 24, Issue 2
  • ISSN 1387-6732
  • E-ISSN: 1570-6001
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes



This chapter examines the earliest writing and related marking practices from Egypt (c.3300 / c.3100–c.2750 BCE), namely graphical marks on ceramic jars and small labels of bone, ivory and wood. In contrast to research focusing on production, this material is examined here from the perspective of consumption. Whether through ‘reading’ or other forms of semantic meaning-making, the author argues that such acts were never neutral, but rather situated within a web of embodied and multisensory processes. These are examined on two recursively related levels: firstly, that of micro-relations, including intersections between embodied perception of marking technique, size, shape, colour and format of signs; and secondly, macro-relations between text-objects and the embodied practitioner within particular cultural spaces. Although this early evidence presents many interpretive challenges, this chapter attempts to demonstrate the value of developing more context-sensitive reconstructions of written culture as part of lived experience – experience for which the body was a fundamental vehicle and mediator.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Allon, Niv & Hana Navrátilová
    (2017) Ancient Egyptian Scribes: A cultural exploration. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
    [Google Scholar]
  2. Altenmüller, Hartwig
    (1976) Das Ölmagazin im Grab des Hesire in Saqqara (QS, 2405). Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur4: 1–29.
    [Google Scholar]
  3. Anđelković, Branislav
    (2011a) Factors of State Formation in Protodynastic Egypt. InR. Friedman and P. N. Fiske (eds), Egypt at Its Origins 3: Proceedings of the Third International Conference “Origin of the State: Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt”. London, 27th July–1st August 2008, 1219–1228. Leuven: Peeters.
    [Google Scholar]
  4. (2011b) Political Organization of Egypt in the Predynastic Period. InEmily Teeter (ed.), Before the Pyramids: The origins of Egyptian civilization, 25–32. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  5. Andersen, Sigurd R.
    (1997) The Eye and its Diseases in Ancient Egypt. Acta Ophthalmologica Scandinavica75(3): 338–344. 10.1111/j.1600‑0420.1997.tb00792.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0420.1997.tb00792.x [Google Scholar]
  6. Baines, John
    (1985) Fecundity Figures: Egyptian personification and the iconology of a genre. Warminster: Aris and Phillips.
    [Google Scholar]
  7. (1989) Communication and Display: The integration of early Egyptian art and writing. Antiquity63(240): 471–482. 10.1017/S0003598X00076444
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003598X00076444 [Google Scholar]
  8. (2004) The Earliest Egyptian Writing: Development, context, purpose. InStephen D. Houston (ed.), The First Writing: Script invention as history and process, 150–189. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  9. (2007) Visual and Written Culture in Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  10. Balke, Thomas E. & Christina Tsouparopoulou
    (eds.) (2016) Materiality of Writing in Early Mesopotamia. Berlin: De Gruyter. 10.1515/9783110459630
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110459630 [Google Scholar]
  11. Bard, Kathryn A.
    1992 Origins of Egyptian Writing. InRenée F. Friedman & Adams, Barbara (eds.), The Followers of Horus: Studies dedicated to Michael Allen Hoffman 1944–1990, 297–306. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Braun, Eliot
    (2009) South Levantine Early Bronze Age Chronological Correlations with Egypt in Light of the Narmer Serekhs from Tel Erani and Arad: New interpretations. British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan13: 25–48.
    [Google Scholar]
  13. Charpin, Dominique
    (2015) Comment peut-on être assyriologue ?: Leçon inaugurale prononcée le jeudi 2 octobre 2014. Paris: Collège de France. 10.4000/lettre‑cdf.1931
    https://doi.org/10.4000/lettre-cdf.1931 [Google Scholar]
  14. Davis, Whitney
    (1992) Masking the Blow: The scene of representation in late prehistoric Egyptian art. Oxford: University of California Press. 10.1525/9780520322615
    https://doi.org/10.1525/9780520322615 [Google Scholar]
  15. Decorte, Roland P.-J. E.
    (2017) Cretan ‘Hieroglyphic’ and the Nature of Script. InPhilippa M. Steele (ed.), Understanding Relations Between Scripts: The Aegean writing systems, 33–56. Oxford: Oxbow Books. 10.2307/j.ctvh1dr51.8
    https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvh1dr51.8 [Google Scholar]
  16. Delnero, Paul
    (2019) Sound and Meaning in Sumerian Cultic Laments. InGrégory Chambon, Michaël Guichard, & Anne-Isabelle Langlois (eds.), De l’argile au numérique: Mélanges assyriologiques en l’honneur de Dominique Charpin, 315–355. Leuven: Peeters. 10.2307/j.ctv1q26s9t.17
    https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1q26s9t.17 [Google Scholar]
  17. Der Manuelian, Peter
    (1999) Semi-Literacy in Egypt: Some erasures from the Amarna Period. InEmily Teeter & John A. Larson (eds.), Gold of Praise: Studies on ancient Egypt in honor of Edward F. Wente, 285–289. Chicago: Oriental Institute, University of Chicago.
    [Google Scholar]
  18. Dick, Philip K.
    (2015) Philip K. Dick: The last interview and other conversations [edited, with introduction byDavid Streitfeld]. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House.
    [Google Scholar]
  19. Dreyer, Günter
    (1998) Umm el-Qaab I: Das prädynastische Königsgrab U-j und seine frühen Schriftzeugnisse. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern.
    [Google Scholar]
  20. Dreyer, Günter, Urich Hartung, & Frauke Pumpenmeier
    (1993) Umm el-Qaab: Nachuntersuchungen im frühzeitlichen Königsfriedhof, 5./6. Vorbericht. Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Abteilung Kairo49: 23–62.
    [Google Scholar]
  21. Emery, Walter B. & Zaki Y. Sa’ad
    (1938) Excavations at Saqqara: The tomb of Hemaka. Cairo: Government Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  22. Endesfelder, Erika
    (1991) Die Formierung der altägyptischen Klassengesellschaft: Probleme und Beobachtungen. InErika Endesfelder (ed.), Probleme der frühen Gesellschaftsentwicklung in Alten Ägypten, 5–62. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag.
    [Google Scholar]
  23. Engel, Eva-Maria
    (1997) Das Grab des Qa’a in Umm el-Qa’ab: Architektur und Inventar, I–III, Unpublished PhD dissertation, Göttingen University.
    [Google Scholar]
  24. (2013) The Organisation of a Nascent State: Egypt until the beginning of the 4th Dynasty. InJuan Carlos Moreno García (ed.), Ancient Egyptian Administration. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 19–40.
    [Google Scholar]
  25. Eyre, Christopher
    (2013) The Use of Documents in Pharaonic Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199673896.001.0001
    https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199673896.001.0001 [Google Scholar]
  26. Gelb, Ignace J.
    (1963) A Study of Writing: The foundation of grammatology (revised edition). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  27. Gibson, James J.
    (1979) The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
    [Google Scholar]
  28. Hendrickx, Stan
    (2006) Predynastic–Early Dynastic Chronology. InHornung, Erik, Rolf Krauss, & David Warburton (eds.), Ancient Egyptian Chronology, Handbook of Oriental Studies, Section One: The Near and Middle East, Vol.83, 55–93. Leiden: E. J. Brill. 10.1163/9789047404002_008
    https://doi.org/10.1163/9789047404002_008 [Google Scholar]
  29. Hoogendijk, Francisca A. J. and Steffie M. T. Van Gompel
    (eds.) (2018) The Materiality of Texts from Ancient Egypt: New approaches to the study of textual material from the early Pharaonic to the late antique period. Leiden: E. J. Brill. 10.1163/9789004375277
    https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004375277 [Google Scholar]
  30. Ingold, Tim
    (2018) Rejoinder to Keane, Webb: Perspectives on affordances, or the anthropologically real. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory8(1/2): 27–38.
    [Google Scholar]
  31. Johnson, Janet
    (2010) The Conception and Development of the Egyptian Writing System. InChristopher Woods, Emily Teeter & Geoff Emberling (eds.), Visible Language: Inventions of writing in the ancient Middle East and beyond. (Oriental Institute Museum Publications, 32.), 149–171. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
    [Google Scholar]
  32. Kahl, Jochem
    (1994) Das System der ägyptischen Hieroglyphenschrift in der 0.–3. Dynastie. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
    [Google Scholar]
  33. (2001) Hieroglyphic Writing During the Fourth Millennium BC: An analysis of systems. Archéo-Nil11: 102–134.
    [Google Scholar]
  34. (2003) Die frühen Schriftzeugnisse aus dem Grab U-j in Umm el-Qaab. Chronique d’Égypte78: 112–135.
    [Google Scholar]
  35. Kahl, Jochem & Eva-Maria Engel
    (2001) Vergraben, verbrannt, verkannt und vergessen: Fund aus dem “Menesgrab”. Münster: Satz und Druck.
    [Google Scholar]
  36. Kammerzell, Frank
    (2009) Defining Non-textual Marking Systems, Writing and Other Systems of Graphic Information Processing. InPetra Andrassy, Julia Budka, & Frank Kammerzell (eds.), Non-Textual Marking Systems, Writing and Pseudo Script from Prehistory to Present Times, 277–308. Göttingen: Seminar für Ägyptologie und Koptologie.
    [Google Scholar]
  37. Kaplony, Peter
    (1963) Die Inschriften der ägyptischen Frühzeit III (ÄA 8). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
    [Google Scholar]
  38. Kemp, Barry J., Andrew Boyce, & James Harrel
    (2000) The Colossi from the Early Shrine at Coptos in Egypt. Cambridge Archaeology Journal10(2): 211–242. 10.1017/S0959774300000081
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0959774300000081 [Google Scholar]
  39. Köhler, Christiana
    (2010) Brief Report on the Thirteenth Season of Excavations in the Early Dynastic Cemetery at Helwan. The Rundle Foundation for Egyptian Archaeology Newsletter113: 2–3.
    [Google Scholar]
  40. MacArthur, Elise V.
    (2010) The Conception and Development of the Egyptian Writing System. InChristopher Woods, Emily Teeter, & Geoff Emberling (eds.), Visible Language: Inventions of writing in the ancient Middle East and beyond, 115–136. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
    [Google Scholar]
  41. Manniche, Lise
    (1978) Symbolic Blindness. Chronique d’Égypte53(105): 13–21. 10.1484/J.CDE.2.308456
    https://doi.org/10.1484/J.CDE.2.308456 [Google Scholar]
  42. Overmann, Karen A.
    (2016) Beyond Writing: The development of literacy in the Ancient Near East. Cambridge Archaeological Journal. 26(2): 285–303. 10.1017/S0959774316000019
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0959774316000019 [Google Scholar]
  43. Petrie, William M. F.
    (1900) The Royal Tombs of the Earliest Dynasties, Part I. London: Egypt Exploration Fund.
    [Google Scholar]
  44. (1901) The Royal Tombs of the Earliest Dynasties, Part 2. (Excavations Memoirs, 21.). London: Egypt Exploration Society.
    [Google Scholar]
  45. Pinarello, Massimiliano S.
    (2015) An Archaeological Discussion of Writing Practice: Deconstruction of the ancient Egyptian scribe. London: Golden House Publications.
    [Google Scholar]
  46. Piquette, Kathryn E.
    (2008) Re-materialising Script and Image. InVicky Gashe & Jacky Finch (eds.), Current Research in Egyptology 2008: Proceedings of the Ninth Annual Symposium, which took place at the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, University of Manchester, January 2008, 89–107. Bolton: Rutherford Press Limited.
    [Google Scholar]
  47. (2013) “It Is Written”?: Making, remaking and unmaking early ‘writing’ in the lower Nile Valley. InKathryn E. Piquette & Ruth D. Whitehouse (eds.), Writing as Material Practice: Substance, surface and medium, 213–238. London: Ubiquity Press. 10.5334/bai.k
    https://doi.org/10.5334/bai.k [Google Scholar]
  48. (2014) Scribal Practice and an Early Dynastic Stone Vessel Inscription: Material and aesthetic implications. InAidan Dodson, John J. Johnston, & Wendy Monkhouse (eds.), A Good Scribe and an Exceedingly Wise Man: Studies in Honour of W.J. Tait, 241–250. London: Golden House Publications.
    [Google Scholar]
  49. (2018a) An Archaeology of Art and Writing: Early Egyptian Labels in Context. Cologne: Modern Academic Publishing. 10.16994/bak
    https://doi.org/10.16994/bak [Google Scholar]
  50. (2018b) Early Egyptian Inscribed Labels Online Database. Cologne: Modern Academic Publishing. doi:https://doi.org/10.18716/map/egyptlabels
    [Google Scholar]
  51. Piquette, Kathryn E. & Ruth D. Whitehouse
    (2013) Introduction: Developing an approach to writing as material practice. InKathryn E. Piquette & Ruth D. Whitehouse (eds.), Writing as Material Practice: Substance, surface and medium, 1–13. London: Ubiquity Press. 10.5334/bai.a
    https://doi.org/10.5334/bai.a [Google Scholar]
  52. Postgate, Nicholas J., Toby A. H. Wilkinson, & Tao Wang
    (1995) The Evidence for Early Writing: Utilitarian or ceremonial?Antiquity69(264): 459–480. 10.1017/S0003598X00081874
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003598X00081874 [Google Scholar]
  53. Ray, John D.
    (1986) The Emergence of Writing in Egypt. World Archaeology17(3): 307–316. 10.1080/00438243.1986.9979972
    https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.1986.9979972 [Google Scholar]
  54. Regulski, Ilona
    (2010) A Palaeographic Study of Early Writing in Egypt. (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, 195.). Leuven: Peeters.
    [Google Scholar]
  55. (2016) The Origins and Early Development of Writing in Egypt. InOxford Handbooks Online. 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935413.013.61
    https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935413.013.61 [Google Scholar]
  56. Shieh, Kong-King & Der-Song Lee
    (2007) Preferred Viewing Distance and Screen Angle of Electronic Paper Displays. Applied Ergonomics38(5): 601–608. 10.1016/j.apergo.2006.06.008
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apergo.2006.06.008 [Google Scholar]
  57. Stauder, Andréas
    (2010) The Earliest Egyptian Writing. InChristopher Woods, Emily Teeter, & Geoff Emberling (eds.), Visible Language: Inventions of writing in the ancient Middle East and beyond, 137–147. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  58. Steele, Philippa M. & Torsten Meissner
    (2017) From Linear B to Linear A: The problem of the backward projection of sound values. InPhilippa M. Steele (ed.), Understanding Relations Between Scripts: The Aegean writing systems, 93–110. Oxford: Oxbow Books. 10.2307/j.ctvh1dr51.11
    https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvh1dr51.11 [Google Scholar]
  59. Stevenson, Alice
    (2007) The Aesthetics of Predynastic Egyptian Burial: Funerary performances in the fourth millennium BC. Archaeological Review from Cambridge22(1): 76–92.
    [Google Scholar]
  60. (2015) Telling Times: Time and ritual in the realization of the early Egyptian state. Cambridge Archaeological Journal25(1): 145–161. 10.1017/S0959774314000742
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0959774314000742 [Google Scholar]
  61. Tallet, Pierre
    (2014) Des papyrus du temps de Chéops au ouadi el-Jarf (Golfe de Suez). Bulletin de la Société Française d’Égyptologie188: 25–29.
    [Google Scholar]
  62. (2015) La zone minière pharaonique du Sud-Sinaï – II: Les inscriptions pré- et protodynastiques du Ouadi ’Ameyra (CCIS nos 273–335). Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale.
    [Google Scholar]
  63. Tallet, Pierre & Damien Laisney
    (2012) Iry-Hor et Narmer au Sud-Sinaï: Un complément à la chronology des expéditions minères égyptiennes. Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale112: 381–298.
    [Google Scholar]
  64. van den Brink, Edwin C. M.
    (1996) The Incised Serekh-Signs of Dynasties 0–1 Part I: Complete vessels. InJeffrey Spencer (ed.), Aspects of Early Egypt, 140–158. London: British Museum Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  65. (2001) The Pottery-incised Serekh-Signs of Dynasties 0–1 Part II: Fragments and additional complete vessels. Archéo-Nil11: 24–100.
    [Google Scholar]
  66. van den Brink, Edwin C. M. & Eliot Braun
    (2002) Wine Jars with Serekhs from Early Bronze Lod: Appellation vallée du Nil contrôlée, but for whom?InEdwin C. M. van den Brink & Eli Yannai (eds.), Quest of Ancient Settlements and Landscapes: Archaeological studies in honour of Ram Gophna, 167–187. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University.
    [Google Scholar]
  67. Vernus, Pascal
    (1993) La naissance de l’écriture dans l’Égypte ancienne. Archéo-Nil3: 75–108.
    [Google Scholar]
  68. von Bissing, Friedrich W.
    (1905) Die mastaba des Gem-ni-kai, Vol.2. Berlin: A. Dunker.
    [Google Scholar]
  69. Wengrow, David
    (2006) The Archaeology of Early Egypt: Social transformations in north east Africa, 10,000–2650 BC. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  70. (2008) The Limits of Decipherment: Object biographies and the invention of writing. InBéatrix Midant-Reynes, Yann Tristant, Joanne Rowlands, & Stan Hendrickx (eds.), Egypt at its Origins 2: Proceedings of the International Conference “Origin of the State: Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt”, Toulouse (France), 5th–8th September 2005, 1021–1032. Leuven: Peeters.
    [Google Scholar]
  71. (2010) The Invention of Writing in Egypt. InEmily Teeter (ed.), Before the Pyramids: The origins of Egyptian civilization, 99–103. Chicago: Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago.
    [Google Scholar]
  72. Wenke, Robert J.
    (2009) The Ancient Egyptian State: The origins of Egyptian culture (c. 8000–2000 BC). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  73. Whitehouse, Ruth D.
    (2013) ‘Tombstones’ in the North Italian Iron Age: Careless writers or athletic readers?InKathryn E. Piquette & Ruth D. Whitehouse (eds.), Writing as Material Practice: Substance, surface and medium, 271–288. London: Ubiquity Press. 10.5334/bai.n
    https://doi.org/10.5334/bai.n [Google Scholar]
  74. Wilkinson, Toby A. H.
    (2001) Early Dynastic Egypt: Strategies, society and security (second edition). London: Routledge.
    [Google Scholar]
  75. Williams, Ronald J.
    (1972) Scribal Training in Ancient Egypt. Journal of the American Oriental Society92: 214–221. 10.2307/600648
    https://doi.org/10.2307/600648 [Google Scholar]
  76. Woods, Christopher, Emily Teeter & Geoff Emberling
    (eds.) (2010) Visible Language: Inventions of writing in the ancient Middle East and beyond. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
    [Google Scholar]
  77. Wood, Wendy
    (1978) A Reconstruction of the Reliefs of Hesy-re. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt15: 9–24. 10.2307/40000125
    https://doi.org/10.2307/40000125 [Google Scholar]
  78. Zeki, Semir
    (2003) La visione dall’interno: Arte e cervello [translated byPaolo Pagli and Giovanna De Vivo]. Turin: Bollati Boringhieri.
    [Google Scholar]
  79. Zinn, Katharina
    (2018) Literacy in Pharaonic Egypt: Orality and literacy between agency and memory. InAnne Kolb (ed.), Literacy in Ancient Everyday Life, 67–97. Berlin: De Gruyter. 10.1515/9783110594065‑005
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110594065-005 [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error