24 March 2006
Back in the mists of time, letter-writing was born, shortly after the invention of writing.
In Egypt, where the afterlife dominated the everyday more than anywhere else in history, some of the first 'letters' were written on bowls and scraps of papyrus inscribed to dead relatives, from the late Old Kingdom (about 2686-2181bc) to the late New Kingdom (about 1550-1069bc). Some are currently in the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology at UCL.
These letters are not just saying 'Hi.' They treat the dead as powerful and possibly malignant beings. They urge compassion and restraint upon the departed and remind recently deceased members of the family - spouses, parents, siblings - to intervene in the afterlife, even at the court of the underworld, to solve difficulties over health or property. One can only speculate on the ultimate delivery.
Victoria Neumar 'The Times Educational Supplement', 24 March 2006