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Institute of Archaeology
University College London

10th November 2004


The development of writing systems and modes of literacy have frequently been identified as having important roles in the development of states and complex societies.  However, this is still not fully understood and many aspects of these themes in the development of ancient societies remain to be clarified.  They are aspects of development which have relevance to many different ancient societies and forms of writing, ranging from ancient Egypt and the Near East to the prehistoric and classical Mediterranean, and from early American cultures to the Roman empire and beyond.  However, these regions are all too often studied in isolation. 

The Social and Cultural Dynamics Research Group and the Complex and Literate Societies Research Group at the Institute of Archaeology  organised a one-day seminar on this theme, which took place on 10th November 2004.  The event aimed to attract speakers working on aspects of the development of writing and literacy in any ancient society, and sought particularly to explore the linkage (if any) between the development of writing systems and literacy and evolution of complex state societies.

The papers delivered at the seminar, together with a number of additional contributions commissioned later, will be published under the editorship of Kathryn Lomas and Ruth Whitehouse.


Session 1: Egyptian and Near Eastern Literacy I

José-R. Pérez-Accino ‘The political concept of Egypt and the invention of writing as reflected in the Shabaka stone’
 John Tait ‘The unsteady state in Roman and Byzantine Egypt who wanted literacy in Coptic?’
Yvette Balbaligo ‘Egyptology beyond philology’

Session 2: Egyptian and Near Eastern Literacy II

Kathryn Piquette ‘ Inscribed objects of the Late Predynastic and 1st Dynasty of Egypt’
Robert Hoyland ‘Writing among the pre-Islamic Arabs’

Session 3:  Literacy in Central and southern America

Bill Sillar ‘The use of kipus as non-written record-keeping in Inca society’

Session 4: Literacy in the ancient Mediterranean

 Kathryn Lomas and Ruth Whitehouse ‘Writing and state development in early Italy’

 Closing discussion