Homepage Timeline Maps A-Z index Learning

Deir el-Medina ostraca in the Petrie Museum

Flinders Petrie collected dozens of hieratic ostraca, mainly from Thebes, though the place and dates of acquisition remain to be established. In the standard selection of such material drawn mainly from European collections (Cernư/Gardiner 1957), the Petrie ostraca represented the largest group after that of Alan Gardiner (the Gardiner collection is now preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford). The selection included most of the 91 ostraca, with facsimile copies of the originals, and hieroglyphic transcriptions for learners and for those who cannot read hieratic. There is no translation, but the introductory pages provide a guide to the contents of each item.

Below is hieratic ostracon Petrie 38, one of the largest in the collection, with a Ramesside copy of an excerpt from the Prophecy of Neferty (click on the picture for a larger image).

The Petrie ostraca range over the full spectrum of topics covered by these writings, and are mainly on small pieces of limestone - effective as a background for writing in black and red, and, in the tomb-cutting projects along the Theban mountain edge, abundant. A small proportion of the ostraca are on fragments of pottery, giving a less clear contrast for writing in red, but still an effective background colour for writing in black. There are few examples where the place of acquisition is recorded, but the contents confirm that the great majority of these ostraca are from Thebes - either Deir el-Medina itself, or places where the Deir el-Medina crews worked (principally the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings).

For initial reference, the spectrum of content may be divided into the categories suggested below, though these are problematic with such small passages of writing - an apparently literary composition may be part of an incantation to be recited to restore good health to a person, as in the start of the Tale of Isis and Ra, for which the healing purpose is demonstrated by the long version preserved on a papyrus probably from Deir el-Medina now in Turin. The numbers of Petrie Museum ostraca in each category are given for reference only, as the sample is too small to offer a reliable guide to the likely proportion of output in original production.

Compare the page on scope of writing in ancient Egypt

Petrie also assembled a collection of 'figured ostraca', or sketches by artists, draughtsmen, scribes, also on pieces of pottery or limestone. Although usually separated for modern analysis, most 'figured ostraca' come from the same world of production as most hieratic ostraca, and should be considered together. They are not included in the list below, but listed in full on the linked page, to avoid confusion in reference, as Petrie gave to both sets sequence numbers starting at 1.

The following list of Petrie hieratic ostraca is in the sequence as numbered within the Petrie collection, by which the material is most often cited: also given are the current museum number with UC prefix, the plate reference in Cernư/Gardiner 1957, and the contents.

Petrie Ostracon no. Current museum no. Gardiner-Cerny 1957, pl. contents type contents details
1 UC 39604 32.2 documentary list of objects with prices
2 UC 39605 32.3 documentary about donkey taken by Khary
3 UC 39606 16.3 documentary bull purchase by Amenmes
4 UC 39607 72.3 documentary about donkey hire and return
5 UC 39608 35.3 documentary yarn distributed for lampwicks
6 UC 39609 7.3 religious plea to Amun for help
7 UC 39610 3.2 literary/health start of Tale of Isis and Ra
8 UC 39611 10.3 literary on hardships of military life
9 UC 39612+ODeM 424 42.3 legal donkey hire dispute
10 UC 39613 17.4 dates/sketch dates, and sketch of Judgment
11 UC 39614 1 literary moralizing composition (cf 45)
12 UC 34322 (not published in G-C) literary Tale of Sanehat (B 236-253)
13 (not located 2002) 5.2 and 114.2 literary Satirical Letter, extract
14 UC 39615 45.1 legal promise to supply donkey
15 UC 39616 26.5 documentary list of wood objects with prices
16 UC 39617 21.1 legal details of an inheritance
17 UC 39618 28.2 documentary furniture made by Pashed
18 UC 39619 70.1 legal Amenpahapy accusing his wife
19 UC 39620 19.3 documentary payment by Userhat in objects
20 UC 39621 32.1 documentary account, donkey-loads of straw
21 UC 39622 16.4 legal oracle appeal in house dispute
22 UC 39623 40.4 religious hymn (to Amun-Ra?) for king
23 UC 39624 45.2 documentary royal tomb workforce supplies
24 UC 39625 21.3 documentary food supplies for workers
25 UC 39626 34.1 documentary royal tomb workforce supplies
26 UC 39627 16.2 letter/sketch memo of letter, and boat sketch
27 UC 32266 10.1 literary start of Satire of Trades
28 UC 39628 8.7 teaching paradigm of verb iw, word list
29 UC 39629 11.2 literary part of Teaching of Amenemhat
30 UC 32067 19.2 documentary wood supplied for royal tomb
31 UC 39630 35.1 documentary food supplies to individuals
32 UC 39631 29.2 documentary objects brought by a woman
33 UC 39632 13.2 religious 'serve Amun' (also no.72)
34 UC 39633 29.1 legal payment promise, complaint
35 UC 39634 12.2 health incantation (duplicate in Turin)
36 UC 39635 23.1, 114.7 teaching list of words, mostly rare
37 UC 39636 29.3 documentary dispute, and business deal
38 UC 39637 (not published in G-C) literary Prophecy of Neferty, par.6-7
39 UC 39638 8.3 literary appeal to return to Thebes
40 UC 39639 13.1 literary part of Satire of Trades
41 UC 39640 12.1 health incantation, with Thoth hymn
42 UC 39641 28.4 documentary list of objects priced in Snaty
43 UC 39642 32.5 documentary list of objects, same hand as 42
44 UC 39643 14.3 literary part of unidentified composition
45 UC 39644 7.2 literary moralizing composition (cf 11)
46 UC 39645 24.5 documentary payment in grain, herbs, etc
47 UC 39646 17.3, 114.4 teaching copy of letter to Ramesses II
48 UC 39647 31.4 documentary list of objects with prices
(49) (renumbered 88)      
50 UC 39648 19.1 documentary royal tomb workforce supplies
51 UC 39649 28.1 documentary property held by others
52 UC 31995 13.3 literary part of unidentified composition
53 UC 39650 4.5 literary part of Teaching of Hordedef
54 UC 39651 20.3 documentary supplies of vegetables
55 UC 39652 13.4 literary part of Satire of Trades
56 UC 39653 43.2 literary part of Teaching of Amenemhat
57 UC 39654 14.2 literary part of Teaching of Amenemhat
58 UC 31996 (not published in G-C) literary part of Tale of Sanehat
59 UC 31997 (not published in G-C) literary Tale of Sanehat (B 250-255)
60 UC 39655 18.2 legal oath to pay debt to Buqenentuf
61 UC 39656 23.4 legal house guarantee to daughter
62 UC 39657 73.2 letter request to wife for writing items
63 UC 39658 33.4 letter (most illegible)
64 UC 39659 21.2 documentary objects brought by a woman
65 UC 32245 34.3 letter request for a good quality bird
66 UC 34323 11.3 literary Tale of Sanehat (B 143-151)
67 UC 32054 20.1 legal oath to pay for a garment
68 UC 31998 (not published in G-C) literary unidentified composition
69 UC 31999 (not published in G-C) literary part of Teaching of Man to Son
70 UC 32000 (not published in G-C) literary part of Satire of Trades
71 UC 32001 (not published in G-C) literary (faded writing)
72 UC 39660 14.4 religious 'serve Amun' (also no.33)
73 UC 39661 66.3 documentary royal tomb workforce supplies
74 UC 32002 (not published in G-C) literary part of Satire of Trades
75 UC 32003 (not published in G-C) letter (parts of two lines only)
76 UC 39662 11.4 literary moralizing composition
77 UC 39663 6.3 literary part of Teaching of Amenemhat
78 UC 39664 35.4 documentary record of hire of a donkey
79 UC 39665 (not published in G-C) documentary memo?
80 UC 39666 40.2, 114.5 literary unidentified composition
81 UC 39667 (not published in G-C) documentary commodity account
82 UC 39668 35.2 letter? (contents uncertain)
83 UC 31905 (not published in G-C) literary advice for writing pupil
84 UC 39669 (not published in G-C) documentary (Dynasty 18 account)
85 UC 39670 34.2 documentary record of fish received
86 UC 39671 (not published in G-C) documentary (Dynasty 18 account)
87 UC 39672 14.6 literary part of Teaching of Amenemhat
88 UC 39673 8.6 health incantation (?)
89 UC 39674 44.3 health (?) incantation (?)
90 UC 39675 12.3 literary part of Satire of Trades
91 UC 39676 42.2 documentary record of a business deal
92 UC 39677 42.1 letter (?) on failure to deliver supplies


Copyright © 2002 University College London. All rights reserved.