Record-making and Record-keeping in Early Societies 0367150476, 9780367150471

Record-Making and Record-Keeping in Early Societies provides a concise and up-to-date survey of early record-making and

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Table of contents :
Half Title
Title Page
Copyright Page
Table of Contents
1. How records began: representation and persistence
2. Marks of ownership and sealing
3. Records, accounting, and the emergence of writing in ancient Mesopotamia
4. Records and writing in other early societies: Egypt, the Aegean, China, and the Americas
5. Creating and storing written records and archives: the proliferation of records in south-west Asia, Egypt, and Greece
6. Orality and literacy: confidence in records
7. Orality, record-making, and social action
8. Concluding thoughts: archival science and early records
Chronological chart
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Record-Making and Record-Keeping in Early Societies

Record-Making and Record-Keeping in Early Societies provides a concise and up-to-date survey of early record-making and record-keeping practices across the world. It investigates the ways in which human activities have been recorded in different settings using different methods and technologies. Based on an in-depth analysis of literature from a wide range of disciplines, including prehistory, archaeology, Assyriology, Egyptology, and Chinese and Mesoamerican studies, the book reflects the latest and most relevant historical scholarship. Drawing upon the author’s experience as a practitioner and scholar of records and archives and his extensive knowledge of archival theory and practice, the book embeds its account of the beginnings of recording practices in a conceptual framework largely derived from archival science. Unique both in its breadth of coverage and in its distinctive perspective on early record-making and record-keeping, the book provides the only updated and synoptic overview of early recording practices available worldwide. Record-Making and Record-Keeping in Early Societies will be of interest to academics, researchers, and students engaged in the study of archival science, archival history, and the early history of human culture. The book will also appeal to practitioners of archives and records management interested in learning more about the origins of their profession. Geoffrey Yeo is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Information Studies at University College London in the UK.

Record-Making and Record-Keeping in Early Societies

Geoffrey Yeo

First published 2021 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2021 Geoffrey Yeo The right of Geoffrey Yeo to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Yeo, Geoffrey (Archivist), author. Title: Record-making and record-keeping in early societies / Geoffrey Yeo. Description: London ; New York, NY : Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2020. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2020041179 (print) | LCCN 2020041180 (ebook) | ISBN 9780367150471 (hardback) | ISBN 9780429054686 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Archives--History. | Records--Management--History. Classification: LCC CD995 .Y46 2020 (print) | LCC CD995 (ebook) | DDC 025.17--dc23 LC record available at LC ebook record available at ISBN: 978-0-367-15047-1 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-367-70627-2 (pbk) ISBN: 978-0-429-05468-6 (ebk) Typeset in Times New Roman by Taylor & Francis Books





How records began: representation and persistence


Marks of ownership and sealing



Records, accounting, and the emergence of writing in ancient Mesopotamia


Records and writing in other early societies: Egypt, the Aegean, China, and the Americas


Creating and storing written records and archives: the proliferation of records in south-west Asia, Egypt, and Greece


4 5



Orality and literacy: confidence in records



Orality, record-making, and social action



Concluding thoughts: archival science and early records


Chronological chart Index

194 196

Frontispiece Making and keeping records in ancient Egypt; from the tomb of Ti at Saqqara (Karl Baedeker, Egypt and the Sudân: Handbook for Travellers, 6th edn., 1908, 151).


This book investigates the beginnings of human recording practices. Historians have long been accustomed to use records as sources for studying innumerable aspects of the past, but in recent years there has been increasing recognition that the making and keeping of records are topics that can and should be studied in their own right. An understanding of records and their potential uses requires an awareness of how and why they were made and kept; at a broader level, their historical development is itself an important part of the history of human culture. Records and archives can be a subject of investigation as well as a source; they can be used as sources for their own history. People have made records for many thousands of years. Although most of the records made in early societies are now irretrievably lost, some have survived to our own day and allow us to see how human activities were recorded in different settings, using different methods and technologies. We can also see how recordmaking led to record-keeping: some records in earlier eras were retained only for a short time, while others were preserved for longer periods with varying degrees of formality and intentionality. Archival practices as we know them today are largely a creation of the past two centuries, but their distant roots lie much earlier. Record-Making and Record-Keeping in Early Societies has its genesis in a keynote paper that I presented at the seventh International Conference on the History of Records and Archives, in Amsterdam in July 2015. My conference paper focused on records in ancient Mesopotamia – the basin of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, an area largely in modern Iraq but also extending into Syria – and in other early societies of south-west Asia and the eastern Mediterranean, but this book has a wider scope: it provides a survey of record-making and record-keeping in a range of early societies across many continents and many regions worldwide. It draws on recent work in numerous disciplines but is written from a perspective of archival scholarship.

Examining records in early societies Over the past half-century, the study of early records has largely been the domain of archaeologists, historians, and anthropologists, rather than archival scholars or

viii Introduction

record-keeping professionals. Many books (and an even larger number of book chapters and journal articles) by archaeologists, historians, and anthropologists have examined aspects of early record-making and record-keeping in particular societies around the world. All are written by area specialists and build on their writer’s scholarly knowledge of a particular historical culture and its surviving artefacts. Almost all focus on a specific region, and few writers offer cross-cultural perspectives. Taken as a whole, these writings reflect a vast recent increase in scholarly understanding of the roles that records performed in early societies. But many of them are primarily concerned with themes of literacy, law, accounting, or administration; the number of works that treat the making and keeping of records as a subject of study in its own right, rather than as an adjunct to the study of literacy or other topics, is much smaller. Despite a so-called ‘archival turn’ that has sometimes been identified in fields such as Assyriology, most researchers in these disciplines have little or no knowledge of current thinking in archival science. Just as specialists in archaeology, ancient history, and anthropology usually have little acquaintance with archival scholarship, equally little of the discoveries made in these disciplines is familiar to archivists. In today’s world, records surviving from early societies are likely to be found in museums rather than in the custody of professional archivists; the literature of archival science is burgeoning, but it is increasingly focused on the challenges of present-day record-keeping rather than on historical analysis. Insofar as most archivists have any awareness of the early history of their field, the work best known to them is Ernst Posner’s Archives in the Ancient World (1972), which offers a synoptic account of recordkeeping across the civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Reprinted in 2003, Posner’s book was undoubtedly a landmark in its day. As the first substantial work of its kind written by an archivist, it is still highly regarded by many Anglophone archival practitioners; but much of its content reflects the perceptions of earlier generations of scholars, and most historians of the ancient world now consider it outdated. In the half-century since Posner’s book was first published, the origins of recording practices have been summarily treated in a small number of journal articles and book chapters by archivists and archival scholars. Although there have been a few collaborative ventures with specialists in archaeology or ancient history (e.g., Ferioli et al., 1994), much of the recent writing by archivists has taken little account of new scholarship in these fields. Few archivists since Posner have attempted to examine the early history of records in any depth. Both in archival science and in other disciplines, writers who have addressed this theme have often placed less emphasis on record-making (practices connected with the documentation or representation of actions, events, and experiences) than on record-keeping (practices connected with the storage, maintenance, or preservation of records after their initial creation). Much scholarly work on early records has taken the form of studies of archival practices and methods, particularly those applied in preserving records in institutional or quasi-institutional settings.



An interest in sites of formal preservation has encouraged a number of scholars to make associations or comparisons between archives and libraries. Some historians studying the ancient world have tended to use the words ‘archive’ and ‘library’ interchangeably, without giving much thought to their conceptual distinctions. Others, however, recognize their separateness, typically identifying archives as ‘administrative texts’ and libraries as repositories of ‘literary texts’, including texts on scientific, technical, or religious matters (Michel, 2018, 44–5). Although few historians take account of recent professional literature on archives and libraries, a commonly held opinion is that archives and libraries are distinguishable but interlinked. For papyrologist Jean-Luc Fournet (2018, 192–5), emphasis on ‘cleavage between documentary collections … and literary collections’ is ‘reductive and unhelpful’: in GrecoRoman Egypt, papyrus was used for administrative documents and literary texts alike, and Fournet affirmed that libraries and archives must be ‘placed in relationship to one another’. Similar investigations of relations between archives and libraries – or between ‘administrative’ and ‘literary’ writings – have sometimes been made by scholars studying ancient China (see, e.g., Fölster, 2018), but they are naturally absent from studies of societies such as Mycenaean Greece or Inka Peru where administrative records were kept but literary texts were unknown. Scholars interested in the history of librarianship have sometimes written about early archives as well as libraries. For many of these scholars, the questions of primary interest relate to the role – real or supposed – that records or archives played in the origins of libraries in the ancient world. Often the aim is to demonstrate the antiquity of library institutions; because the making of records long antedates the composition of ‘literary’ works in ancient societies, discussion of records and archives ostensibly allows the work of library historians to be extended further back in time than would otherwise be possible. To some writers in this tradition, records and archives seem of little interest in their own right: they are merely part of a larger story that culminated in the emergence of libraries (Ndiaye, 1988, 40; Nylan, 2014, 160). To others, archives resemble libraries through their concern with the management of information; these writers see early records primarily as ‘texts’, and archives and libraries as ‘textual assemblies’ serving similar purposes (Du Toit, 2011, 102, 153; cf. Hedstrom and King, 2004, 12).1 Some library historians have taken these arguments further and claimed that the first archives were ‘generated by and conceived in a library culture’ (Diao, 2019, 23). In this book, I take a different approach. As its title suggests, the book aims to examine aspects of the making as well as the keeping of records. It is deeply indebted to research conducted in many other fields, but its perspective on early record-making and record-keeping is largely embedded in archival science rather than archaeology, anthropology, or library and information studies. It affirms that records are not simply ‘administrative texts’ or pieces of information content. Far from originating in a ‘library culture’, records

x Introduction

were made, kept, and used by people in many parts of the world long before written ‘texts’, literary works, or libraries were conceived. While it is certainly possible to identify points of contact with the concerns of information professionals – records can be (and often are) used to garner information – identifying records only as collections of information resources fails to offer a full picture of their complexity. In any society, ancient or modern, records have distinctive connections to human behaviour. At the moment of their creation, they are intimately linked to particular activities or events. Although they may be subject to many further interventions in their later life – interventions that may include, but are by no means limited to, being housed in repositories and used for informational purposes – records remain bound to the social actions in which they were generated. Beyond the record’s material artefact, beyond any text that it may bear, lies an action in the world; the starting-point for investigating records should be the initial moment of action, not the collection or repository in which they may later come to be held. Record-Making and RecordKeeping in Early Societies considers the materiality of records but gives more emphasis to what might be called their ‘sociomateriality’ (Parmiggiani and Mikalsen, 2013): the interweaving of their materiality and their social roles. In earlier work (Yeo, 2007), I characterized records as persistent representations of activities or events. A representation is something that stands, or is believed to stand, for something else. Activities or events are perceived to have endings in time, but a record can have an ongoing presence; it is a persistent representation because it has the capacity to remain available after the ending of the activity or event that it represents. Records can also represent what might be called ‘states of affairs’: how things were at fleeting moments in time. Records may not last forever, but they outlive the immediate circumstances in which they were created. Later users may interpret them in different ways, but records’ persistence and their representational qualities influence and shape the interpretations to which they are subject. An understanding of records as persistent representations provides part of the conceptual framework for this book. Representations can be iconic (visibly resembling the things they stand for) or conventional (lacking visible resemblance and relying instead on agreed conventions). Records that are wholly or partly iconic might include, for example, the buffalo-hide ‘war record robes’ on which indigenous peoples of the American Plains painted visual representations of the martial exploits of noted warriors, or – at a much earlier date – the images of Queen Hatshepsut’s trading expedition to a land known as ‘Punt’, which are engraved on the walls of her temple at Deir elBahri in Egypt. But most of the records examined in this book are conventional: they depend on socially constructed understandings that objects, or marks made on an object, represent phenomena in the wider world. Conventional representations can take many forms. Besides written characters and number symbols (which have been used in record-making for more than 5000



years), conventional representations can include incisions on bones, knots on cords, and notches in wooden sticks (which have almost certainly been used for record-making purposes for much longer). Record-making, of course, is not merely a matter of documenting or recording activities or events external to the recording process. Records perform activities. The making of a record is itself an activity and an event. For many millennia, as we will see in this book, the performativity of records has enabled people to conduct business and communicate with others in the course of their daily lives. Representations are more than simply images or descriptions; they can be powerful instruments of social interaction. The word ‘archives’ is not a synonym of ‘records’. It was originally used to refer to repositories: places where records were brought together, stored, and (sometimes) made accessible. More recently, however, the word has acquired a wider range of meanings. The assemblages of records held within repositories have also come to be labelled as ‘archives’, and the word is now often used to refer to the totality of records created by a single household, person, or institution. These later usages have become commonplace in writings about early record-keeping and have been employed in this book. In the hope of avoiding further ambiguity, the book alludes to places of storage as ‘repositories’. Traditional emphases on issues of retention, storage, and preservation have sometimes been reflected in the literature in other ways. Some scholars, both in archival science and in fields such as Egyptology, have wanted to limit understandings of ‘records’ to items designated for long-term retention, items managed in ways that would facilitate future retrieval and use, or items ‘written deliberately … to serve as evidence’ (Eyre, 2013, 8). But records are not always created with a view to long-term or even medium-term retention or use. Indeed, in most societies, including Western societies today, people make records chiefly to facilitate current business, often with little thought to their possible use for reference in the more distant future. Many records, of course, are deliberately preserved, but some exist only for a short time, perhaps a few days or weeks; although many survive for much longer periods, their survival can sometimes be a matter of happenstance rather than purposeful choice. In this book, records are characterized, not by decisions about their preservation or future use, but by their contextual relationships to activities and events, and by the durability that potentially allows them to outlast the activities and events they represent.

Before and beyond writing: records, cultural knowledge, and time Posner’s study of the ancient world looked almost entirely at written records, and other archivists who have discussed early recording practices have also often assumed that the story of records begins with the invention of writing a little over 5000 years ago. But the first records were made long before writing

xii Introduction

came into use, and Record-Making and Record-Keeping in Early Societies addresses non-written as well as written records of activities and events. It attempts, not merely to describe the wide variety of recording practices in different societies at different times, but also to engage with a range of questions about the contexts in which those practices arose and the ways in which we might understand and interpret them. This book does not aspire to comprehensive analysis of what has been called ‘the general transmission of culturally significant knowledge’ (Gosden, 2008, 335). Every human society possesses a vast range of cultural knowledge: scholars have noted that, in societies without written texts, such knowledge almost always includes narratives about communal origins, as well as knowledge of the natural environment, animals and plants, hunting or farming practices, tool-making, astronomy, remedies against illness, and codes of behaviour governing everyday life. Every society also possesses mechanisms for transmitting significant knowledge across the generations. When writing techniques are absent, as Egyptologist John Baines (2007, 7) remarked, knowledge is ‘intensively tended in memorization, … related to cues in the world, or both’. As numerous scholars have observed, modes of cultural knowledge and the mechanisms used to transmit them serve as foundations on which a society bases its values and much of its consciousness of its unity, identity, and uniqueness. In societies whose members make records of particular human activities, there are close connections between record-making and wider spheres of cultural knowledge. Ineluctably, cultural knowledge influences activities and shapes the records that are made of them, and these records in turn contribute to the maintenance and development of the society’s cultural values. From the viewpoint of a scholarly researcher who encounters them at a later date, records of human activities can be seen as traces of cultural understandings and traditions. Nevertheless, a comprehensive study of cultural knowledge transmission in early societies would have to embrace not only records of activities but also a vast range of supports for ‘intensive … memorization’ and ‘cues in the world’, including rituals, cults, sacred objects, and religious observances; clothing, headgear, masks, and ornaments; statues and figurines; epic poetry, drama, and other forms of story-telling; and many aspects of the built environment such as tombs, monuments, temples, and shrines. Full exploration of all these topics would require a work of encyclopaedic length and lies beyond the scope of the present book. Records of activities, moreover, can usually be distinguished from other forms of communicative transmission in a number of ways. As well as being focused on specific activities or events associated with their creation, records are often constructed for a small audience in a particularized context (frequently only for members of the record-maker’s workgroup or immediate social circle). Although some records may subsequently be used much more widely – especially if they happen to survive for a long period – wide circulation is rarely envisaged at the moment of their making. Unlike most modes



of transmitting general cultural knowledge, early records were not usually intended for community-wide or transgenerational audiences. Records also seem to be characteristic of societies with specific understandings of time. Data from anthropological studies suggest that societies with primarily oral cultures in our own era often view the past as indistinguishable from a continuing present (Hassig, 2001, 2). Projecting these findings back into earlier periods of history requires considerable caution, but it is not unlikely that people in many of the earliest human societies perceived the past and present as a unified whole in which transience and change were absent or imperceptible. In societies where the past is seen as always present, traditions are celebrated and revered; but they are used chiefly to inhibit discontinuities and confirm the condition of the present (Assmann, 2011, 58) rather than to retain, enhance, or verify knowledge of specific activities or events. In many such societies, senses of seamless fusion exist, not only between past and present time, but also between objects and stories: very often, the objects or artefacts that evoke knowledge or memory are understood, not as discrete representations of tales that can be told about the past, but as mystic or sacred entities inseparable from the myths and stories woven around them. People who perceive a detachment between past and present tend to see the world very differently. For those who adopt this view, past events can be distinguished from present reality, but records can endure across disjunctions of time. Records can also ‘appear to have the ability to reattach the past to the present’, in the words of historian Arlette Farge (2013, 8). Critics sometimes affirm that this ability is illusory: that, at best, records give only brief glimpses of prior events (Harris, 2002). The past cannot be recovered in its totality. Nevertheless, records are kept and used by people who believe that records may help them to preserve, gain, or regain a modicum of knowledge of activities and events that would be otherwise be unattainable. Aspirations to reattach past and present are not felt by people who recognize no separation between them. Records are wanted only in societies where the transience of the past is acknowledged.

Scope and structure of the book A particular challenge of writing this book was to find a chapter structure that would allow an integrated discussion of record-making and record-keeping developments that took place in different regions of the world at different dates. I have endeavoured to resolve this challenge by eschewing a purely geographical or purely chronological structure. Because the available evidence is uneven – much more survives from some regions than from others – and because some developments were distinctive to particular regions, some chapters necessarily have a wider geographical range than others. The general movement of the book travels forward in time, but where a less rigid structure

xiv Introduction

seemed appropriate I have not hesitated to allow particular chapters to reach backward as well as looking ahead. Chapters 1–2 explore the earliest forms of record-making and recordkeeping across the globe. Chapters 3–4 concentrate on specific regions: Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Aegean, early China, and the pre-colonial Americas. Four of these (Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and the Americas) are regions where major developments – typically revolving around the emergence of writing – occurred more or less independently at different times; the Aegean basin provides an example of a region where developments were more obviously influenced by techniques that had previously been adopted elsewhere. Chapter 5 narrows the geographical focus further and examines the proliferation of written records that occurred in south-west Asia (the area often known to scholars as the ‘Near East’) and Egypt after the introduction of writing; this chapter also discusses later practices in Greece and the Hellenistic world. Chapter 6 investigates orality, literacy, and the growth of confidence in records, and much of this chapter again looks specifically at developments in south-west Asia, Egypt, and Greece. Chapter 7 then opens the discussion out again and considers some of the roles played by records in social and cultural interaction in early societies around the world. The final chapter examines questions about the relevance – or irrelevance – of current archival science to the records made, kept, and used in early societies. Inescapably, a book of this length must be selective in its coverage. There are many more topics that could have been included and many more regions that could have been studied in a longer work. For example, I have not speculated about records that may have been created 4000 years ago using the still-undeciphered script of the Indus valley (Rao, 2018). Although the book moves beyond south-west Asia and Egypt to discuss developments in Greece, I have not attempted to describe the later diffusion of written recording practices into other regions around and beyond the Mediterranean Sea. Nor have I sought to provide full accounts of the records of the Roman empire or of the vast bureaucracy that administered China under the emperors of the Han dynasty. Written records in these imperial societies were made and kept on a scale seemingly unparalleled until modern times, and I have preferred to focus the present work on societies where record-making and record-keeping might be thought to reflect earlier stages of development. Record-Making and Record-Keeping in Early Societies also says relatively little about indigenous cultures today. Despite the book’s emphasis on ‘early societies’, several colleagues with whom I discussed its scope urged me to write more about cultures that have continued with non-textual recording practices in our own age. Although this topic has been fairly widely explored in recent archival literature, it undoubtedly invites further research, including investigation of the possible relevance of contemporary practices to studies of non-textual recording in earlier times; but it has not proved possible to address these issues in any depth while retaining the book’s internal coherence



and keeping it to a manageable length.2 Fuller analysis of contemporary practices would require a separate book with a different concentration. Its selective approach notwithstanding, Record-Making and Record-Keeping in Early Societies remains an ambitious study, with an extensive timeframe. The story that it aspires to tell begins many thousands of years before writing was invented. Although written records emerged only in the later part of the era embraced by this book, written record-making in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt nevertheless extended over a period more than three times as long as the interval that separates the English Domesday survey from the digital records of the present day. Geographically, too, the book ranges widely; its examples of early practices are taken from different societies across many continents. Inevitably, however, its scope and content are constrained by the nature of the available sources. Mesopotamian cultures feature prominently, not because of any judgements about their relative importance, but simply because so much evidence survives from the Mesopotamian world. We know less about societies whose recording media have proved less durable than the clay tablets used in Mesopotamia. Much depends on accidents of climate: in China, for example, wood and bamboo were both widely used for record-making, but early records on bamboo have survived almost exclusively in regions of high humidity, while records on wood survive only where the climate is arid (Wilkinson, 2000, 791). In almost every part of the world, what survives is a tiny proportion of what once existed, and it is usually very difficult to assess whether surviving samples are typical of wider practice. Although evidence from surviving records can sometimes be supplemented from later literary sources, or by studying the extant remnants of early repositories, much of the picture remains incomplete. Nevertheless, new evidence has come to light in recent years in many areas of the world, and this book has been able to give a more extensive account of regions beyond Mesopotamia and its neighbours than would have been possible two or three decades ago. Future discoveries will almost certainly expand our knowledge considerably further. The limitations of the currently available evidence mean that many of the arguments and conclusions in the book must remain tentative. In writing the book, I have relied on the presentation of evidence by other scholars, but I have endeavoured not to accept their interpretations uncritically. I have been especially cautious about claims that particular markings on rocks, pottery, or other surfaces constitute a form of writing, a record of a past event, or a symbolic code at a much earlier date than any previously known examples. Many such claims have been put forward in recent years, and some have been accorded wide publicity in popular news media, but almost all have been disputed by other researchers and remain controversial. Well-meaning colleagues drew my attention to a number of claims of this kind from different parts of the world, but I have preferred to report only findings that have attracted a higher level of consensus. However, my account will undoubtedly need revision in future years as

xvi Introduction

scholarly claims are tested, further new discoveries are made, and more becomes known about early recording practices in other societies that have not been fully treated in this book. Most of the societies discussed at length in the book flourished more than – in many cases, considerably more than – 2000 years ago, but I have also devoted several pages to record-making and record-keeping practices in preHispanic Mesoamerica and to the complex knotted-cord records of the Inka empire. In this respect the book follows the example of scholars who consider Mesoamerican and Inka societies, although more recent in time, to be structurally more closely related to societies of the ancient world than to their Eurasian coevals (Raaflaub, 2014, 3). In a study of early records, these societies are of particular interest because the solutions adopted in a long-isolated continent cannot have been subject to influences from other parts of the world. Elsewhere, when we find broadly similar practices among different peoples, the similarities can often be attributed to a shared ancestry or to borrowing or adaptation from a neighbouring group, but the emergence of sophisticated recording methods in the pre-colonial Americas must have been an independent development. Practices in China – and, to a considerable extent, Egypt – are also frequently thought to have developed independently of those in Mesopotamia, but this is not certain; the pre-colonial Americas offer the clearest evidence that intricate systems of recording were invented more than once, at different times and in different places. It appears that, even where societies were not in contact, similarities in economic and social conditions gave rise to similar needs for innovation. The growth of recording habits can be seen both as a reflection of, and as a response to, issues raised in different societies by increasing levels of socioeconomic complexity. However, a cross-cultural study should not simply be a search for commonalties, or even for areas of approximate similarity. It can also shed light on the numerous points of divergence between societies with different histories, values, and customs. For example, the marking of pottery (discussed in Chapter 2) is a practice found in many early cultures but not in all. Knotted-cord records have been used by many different peoples, especially around the Pacific Ocean, but evidence of their use has not been discovered everywhere in the world. Early modes of writing emerged in Mesoamerica as well as in parts of Asia, Europe, and north Africa, but many genres of written records that were deployed in societies such as Mesopotamia and Egypt remained unknown in Mesoamerica until Europeans invaded. Needs for persistent representations of activities and events arose in many places around the world, but the forms adopted to meet those needs were the product of specific cultures and specific regional circumstances. Recording practices (written or unwritten) undoubtedly also varied over time and space within particular regions. Surviving evidence of intra-regional differences is often uneven, but even in regions where we seem to have ample



evidence, local practices are likely to have varied to a far greater extent than we can now hope to reconstruct. This book can do no more than hint at the range of differences that must once have existed. Although I hope it will be of interest to those who work in other disciplines, Record-Making and Record-Keeping in Early Societies has been written by an archival scholar, with archival audiences in mind. An archaeologist, a prehistorian, or an anthropologist would almost certainly choose to tell its story in a very different way. The book also reflects my personal perspective; archivists with non-Western backgrounds, or those whose primary interests are in diplomatics, information retrieval, identity construction, or the artefactual qualities of records, would probably want to emphasize different aspects of the story, illustrate them with different examples, and perhaps interpret the concept of ‘records’ more narrowly or more broadly than I have done. No work of this kind can be written without preconceptions, but there is ample scope for further studies exploring early recording practices from other archival viewpoints. ****** It seems impossible to discuss record-making and record-keeping in societies such as Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, or early China without using terms such as ‘administration’, ‘bureaucracy’, ‘law’, and ‘land ownership’, but these phenomena did not manifest themselves in early societies in the same ways as they appear in today’s world. When this book uses a term such as ‘administration’ in the context of an early society, this should not be taken to mean that early administrations functioned identically to their modern counterparts; nor can it be assumed that conceptual understandings of ‘administration’ were acknowledged by people in earlier times. Yet, structures that we can recognize as administrative undoubtedly existed in these societies, and we have little choice but to fall back on the terminology of our own era to describe them. Similar considerations apply to terms and concepts relating to records. The word ‘record’ has its roots in Latin and the English Middle Ages (Yeo, 2015); it is not native to the societies discussed in this book. In Mesopotamia, the objects that the book refers to as ‘records’ were usually known as ‘tablets’, a term that reflects physical form rather than function; in a broadly similar way, a knottedcord record was known in the Inka realm as a ‘khipu’, a word that simply means ‘knot’ or ‘knots’. Terms such as ‘representation’, ‘persistence’, ‘integrity’, and ‘authenticity’ also reflect conceptualizations that were not formalized until much later times. We can sometimes observe people in early societies implicitly seeking ways of protecting the integrity or verifying the authenticity of records, but it is most unlikely that they would have conceptualized their actions in this way. Nevertheless, it is not necessarily unhelpful to employ concepts from our own era when we seek to construct interpretations of what they were doing. Writing for archivists and other readers who may have little specialist knowledge of early societies, I have chosen to use the familiar Anglicized versions of names

xviii Introduction

where these exist. I mention Ramesses, not Rc-m-sw, and Sparta, not Lakedaimo-n; similarly, I refer to the Mesoamerican people whose empire was overthrown by Hernán Cortés as Aztecs rather than Culhua-Mexica, and their sovereign as Montezuma rather than Motecuhzuma or Motecuçoma. As far as possible, I have chosen to provide approximate calendar dates instead of referring to named historical ‘periods’ that may be unfamiliar to non-specialist readers. I have retained the familiar conventions of ‘AD’ and ‘BC’ in preference to the academic use of ‘CE’ and ‘BCE’, and I have also eschewed other dating styles – such as ‘cal. BC’, ‘BP’, and ‘KA’ – that are sometimes used in specialist literature. I must beg the forbearance of any readers who would prefer what they might consider more rigorous modes of expression. For ease of reference, a chronological chart is provided at the back of the book.

Notes 1 Advocates of this view sometimes claim that distinctions between libraries and archives were unknown to people in ancient societies, whose collections of ‘texts’ intermingled ‘administrative’ with ‘literary’ materials (Diao, 2019, 21; cf. Fournet, 2018, 192–3). Undoubtedly, in localities where writing was used for ‘literary’ as well as administrative or legal purposes, archaeologists have sometimes found records stored together with literary texts (and/or with other artefacts or utensils); particularly in private houses, storage rooms and containers sometimes held an assortment of contents. But Olaf Pedersén’s Archives and Libraries in the Ancient Near East, 1500–300 BC (1998) examined more than 200 institutional and private collections from Mesopotamia and demonstrated that only 11% included both records and literary texts. Pedersén also showed that, at sites such as the palace at Alalakh and the temple of Šamaš at Sippar, records and literary texts were stored in separate rooms. Studies of Egypt (Fournet, 2018, 183) and China (Weld, 1999, 84) have reached broadly similar conclusions. Besides the existence of numerous archives that include no reference works or other ‘literary’ texts, the frequent physical demarcation of records from literary materials indicates that their custodians recognized distinctions between them. 2 Attempts to use ethnographic studies of contemporary practices to illuminate behaviours in the distant past have given rise to much scholarly controversy. Practices characteristic of recent societies can sometimes be shown to have been employed at much earlier dates: for example, tattooing and scarring of the human body have been practised in many societies around the Pacific Ocean in the past 200 or 250 years, often as a means of indicating puberty, fertility, or social rank, and archaeologists have uncovered evidence that very similar practices may have prevailed in the same region several thousand years ago (Kononenko, 2012). But it would be wrong to assume that earlier populations always behaved comparably to people living in more recent times. I discuss recent non-textual recording practices in the Andes in Chapter 4, but for the most part this book refers to contemporary practices sparingly.

References Assmann, Jan (2011) Cultural Memory and Early Civilization, Cambridge University Press.



Baines, John (2007) Visual and Written Culture in Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press. Diao, Junli (2019) ‘In Search of China’s First Library: Materials, Housing, and Arrangement’, Library and Information History 35 (1): 21–39. Du Toit, Jaqueline S. (2011) Textual Memory: Ancient Archives, Libraries and the Hebrew Bible, Sheffield Phoenix. Eyre, Christopher (2013) The Use of Documents in Pharaonic Egypt, Oxford University Press. Farge, Arlette (2013) The Allure of the Archives, Yale University Press. Ferioli, Piera, Enrica Fiandra, Gian Giacomo Fissore, and Marcella Frangipane, eds. (1994) Archives before Writing: Proceedings of the International Colloquium, Oriolo Romano, 23–25 October 1991, Centro Internazionale di Ricerche Archeologiche Antropologiche e Storiche. Fölster, Max Jakob (2018) ‘Libraries and Archives in the Former Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 9 CE): Arguing for a Distinction’, in Alessandro Bausi, Christian Brockmann, Michael Friedrich, and Sabine Kienitz, eds., Manuscripts and Archives, De Gruyter. Fournet, Jean-Luc (2018) ‘Archives and Libraries in Greco-Roman Egypt’, in Alessandro Bausi, Christian Brockmann, Michael Friedrich, and Sabine Kienitz, eds., Manuscripts and Archives, De Gruyter. Gosden, Chris (2008) ‘History without Text’, in John Baines, John Bennet, and Stephen Houston, eds., The Disappearance of Writing Systems, Equinox. Harris, Verne (2002) ‘The Archival Sliver: Power, Memory, and Archives in South Africa’, Archival Science 2 (1–2): 63–82. Hassig, Ross (2001) Time, History, and Belief in Aztec and Colonial Mexico, University of Texas Press. Hedstrom, Margaret, and John Leslie King (2004) ‘On the LAM: Library, Archive, and Museum Collections in the Creation and Maintenance of Knowledge Communities’, Kononenko, Nina (2012) ‘Middle and Late Holocene Skin-Working Tools in Melanesia: Tattooing and Scarification?’, Archaeology in Oceania 47 (1): 14–28. Michel, Cécile (2018) ‘Constitution, Contents, Filing and Use of Private Archives: The Case of Old Assyrian Archives (Nineteenth Century BCE)’, in Alessandro Bausi, Christian Brockmann, Michael Friedrich, and Sabine Kienitz, eds., Manuscripts and Archives, De Gruyter. Ndiaye, Raphaël (1988) ‘Oral Culture and Libraries’, IFLA Journal 14 (1): 40–46. Nylan, Michael (2014) ‘Manuscript Culture in Late Western Han, and the Implications for Authors and Authority’, Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture 1 (1–2): 155–185. Parmiggiani, Elena, and Marius Mikalsen (2013) ‘The Facets of Sociomateriality: A Systematic Mapping of Emerging Concepts and Definitions’, Lecture Notes in Business Information Processing 156: 87–103. Pedersén, Olaf (1998) Archives and Libraries in the Ancient Near East, 1500–300 BC, CDL. Posner, Ernst (1972) Archives in the Ancient World, Harvard University Press. Raaflaub, Kurt A., ed. (2014) Thinking, Recording, and Writing History in the Ancient World, Wiley-Blackwell. Rao, Rajesh P. N. (2018) ‘The Indus Script and Economics: A Role for Indus Seals and Tablets in Rationing and Administration of Labor’, in Dennys Frenez, Gregg

xx Introduction M. Jamison, Randall W. Law, Massimo Vidale, and Richard H. Meadow, eds., Walking with the Unicorn: Social Organization and Material Culture in Ancient South Asia, Archaeopress. Weld, Susan (1999) ‘Chu Law in Action: Legal Documents from Tomb 2 at Baoshan’, in Constance A. Cook and John S. Major, eds., Defining Chu: Image and Reality in Ancient China, University of Hawai‘i Press. Wilkinson, Endymion (2000) Chinese History: A Manual, Harvard University Asia Center. Yeo, Geoffrey (2007) ‘Concepts of Record (1): Evidence, Information, and Persistent Representations’, American Archivist 70 (2): 315–343. Yeo, Geoffrey (2015) ‘Record(s)’, in Luciana Duranti and Patricia C. Franks, eds., Encyclopedia of Archival Science, Rowman & Littlefield.

Chapter 1

How records began: representation and persistence

In every human society today, processes of thought and social intelligence are able to invoke rich stores of memory and understanding that have grown over many generations. But scholars tell us that our distant predecessors lived their lives with far fewer mental resources to call on. Several million years ago, the only kind of memory our hominid ancestors possessed is likely to have been a procedural memory: a memory of patterns of habitual action, which offered little or no ability to recall the detail of specific events. Consciousness would have been very largely confined to the present. Individuals would have been aware of the situations that faced them at particular moments, but probably had little capacity for reflection on the contexts in which those situations arose or their connection to similar situations that had occurred in the past (Donald, 1991, 148–51). Our remote ancestors also lived in a world where spoken language did not exist. But long before they acquired language, they gradually acquired the ability to construct memories of events within some kind of spatiotemporal framework and to store those memories in their minds. We may not find it easy to imagine how memory operated when spoken language was unknown, but scholars are confident that, a million or more years ago, individuals were able to invoke memories of past experiences and use those memories to accumulate knowledge and skill. It has been widely argued that gradual but perceptible advances in the making of stone tools (Stout, 2011) would have been impossible without developments in culture and cognition. Nevertheless, in the absence of language, the ability to transmit knowledge from one generation to the next must have been severely limited. Presumably, certain kinds of knowledge could be passed on by imitation – the young could learn how to use simple tools by observing and mimicking the actions of their elders – and instructions such as ‘come here’ or ‘don’t go that way’ could be communicated by means of gestures. However, we must assume that it was only with the emergence of speech capabilities that it became possible to transmit detailed ideas, beliefs, or historical memories across the generations. Without developed forms of spoken language, all awareness that certain individuals had been the most successful hunters or the wisest members of the

2 How records began

tribe must inevitably have been lost when everyone who once knew them had died. Unless stories and narratives can be passed on using language of some kind, the pace of knowledge accumulation within a community is very slow; to a large extent, each generation is obliged to ‘start … afresh, because the old die with their wisdom sealed forever in their brains’ (Donald, 2001, 150). The origins of human speech, perhaps about 100,000 years ago, have long been a matter for scholarly controversy. But researchers are now convinced that, 40,000 or more years ago: people had fully modern language …. They were able to create arbitrary sounds with meanings, to manipulate complex grammatical constructions, to speak about the past and the future, to convey abstract notions, and to utter intelligible sentences that had never before been put together. (Lewis-Williams, 2002, 88) It seems almost certain that they will have employed some of these sentences to articulate their memories of past experience – memories that, for humans, as archaeologist Alasdair Whittle (2010, 35) noted, are ‘an inescapable part of the business of getting on in the world’. Spoken language enabled people to communicate these memories to their children and grandchildren and to others within a social group. At first, these communications will necessarily have remained transitory. In the absence of technical devices to copy and preserve them, spoken words are evanescent; they disappear at the moment of their utterance, and the stories they convey must be retained in human minds and brains if they are not to be forgotten. But over time – we do not know how or when this first happened – people began to seek other means of preventing stories and beliefs from slipping into oblivion, by associating spoken words with songs and dances or with other forms of ritual and ceremony. At a communal level, the frequent repetition of words and actions in structured rites and ceremonies will have allowed stories about the origins of the community and about foundational events in its life to be preserved and passed on to later generations. In more recent times – and perhaps also at earlier dates – some communities acknowledged specialist individuals whose primary task was to memorize and recite histories or historical myths; in non-egalitarian societies, such individuals were often attendants on the leader or ruler of the community, and their role was typically focused on preserving the names and genealogies of past rulers and stories about the rulers’ achievements.

Aids to memory It is sometimes claimed that, in societies without writing, individual or communal memories are more powerful than in contemporary Western societies where the ubiquity of writing has reduced the need for mental recall. Nevertheless,

How records began


there are always practical constraints on what any individual or group of individuals can expect to remember. Even in communities that have developed effective ways of passing on cultural traditions, pedigrees, and community lore, individuals may be aware that they often have imperfect ability to recall the particular activities and events that occur in everyday life. Human memory remains limited both in capacity and in longevity. These limitations may have had little significance in the earliest societies, but as life gradually became more complex the weaknesses of memory will have become more apparent. By a developmental process that now lies almost entirely beyond our recognition, people began to find ways of complementing or enhancing mental recollection through interaction with the physical world; emerging needs to retain knowledge beyond the normal limits of memory led them to deploy natural objects or other features of the external environment as aids to remembrance. We cannot hope to identify precise external features used as memory aids in the distant past, but we know that in more recent times many people raised in oral cultures have adopted aspects of the landscape, or particular objects within it, as supplements or supports to human memory. Geoffrey Koziol, Albert Borgmann, Donald McKenzie, and Dominic Andrae are four of the many scholars who have observed this phenomenon in different parts of the world: Koziol (2012, 536) described a rock that reminded people in earlymedieval France of how a king had tried to escape from prison; Borgmann (1999, 30) commented on a large pine tree that served to remind the North American Salish people of the story of a young man who had been killed; McKenzie (1999, 40) and Andrae (2015) noted the dynamic memorial (and sacred) roles of landscape features in the lives of the Arrernte people of central Australia. It is not unreasonable to suppose that people many thousands of years ago deployed features of the landscape to maintain or reinforce memories in a broadly similar way. Such practices need not have resulted from conscious decision-making; landscapes may often have been inextricably bound with the cultural identity of their inhabitants. As British historian Geoffrey Cubitt (2007, 195) has suggested, any landscape that is the site of social activity over a period of time ‘will tend to develop mnemonic connotations of an associative kind for those who live in it’. On a smaller scale, body ornaments, tools, and domestic objects – whether human-made or borrowed from the natural world – also have the potential to act as memory triggers. When our distant ancestors began to employ durable tools and utensils, and then to pass them from one generation to the next, the use of these objects must sometimes have prompted recollection of the individuals who had made them, acquired them, or handed them on, or events in which they had played a part. Although the memorial role of tools and utensils will almost always have remained incidental to their practical functions, their ongoing use may nevertheless have evoked potent memories of the people, places, and stories associated with them.

4 How records began

Sometimes, perhaps, people may have chosen to mark a landscape feature or other object to draw attention to its memorial significance, in much the same way as the Salish are said to have adorned their large pine tree with pieces of bone. When an object has been distinguished in this way, as Borgmann (1999, 30) remarked in his description of the tree, its signifying aspect ‘is no longer incidental; … it is now an intentional sign’. Following its decoration, the tree ceased to be simply a fortuitous trigger for recalling the young man’s death; in its embellished form, its memorial status was canonized. The fashioning of an ‘intentional sign’ demonstrates a conscious recognition of the potential weaknesses of human memory and a desire to find ways to mitigate them. As well as discovering aids to memory in the natural landscape and in everyday objects, non-literate people often make additional memory devices of their own. The practice of constructing formal places of burial, from the Stone Age onwards, may have had magical or ritual significance, but is also likely to have served as a means of memorializing deceased individuals and their social relationships (Arnold, 2010; Williams, 2003). Archaeologists have also suggested that the erection of monoliths (large standing stones) may sometimes have been connected with ancestral commemoration (Skeates, 2010, 80–2). Pits containing choice pottery and animal bones may have been dug with the express purpose of memorializing notable occasions that had been celebrated by feasting (Pryor, 2003, 178; cf. Hamilakis, 2010, 195). Our earliest ancestors almost certainly felt no need to construct memorials of past occasions, but desires for memorialization doubtless grew as people acquired growing awareness of temporal change. Many scholars believe that the mnemonic function of a monolith, or a pit filled with pottery and bones, was not accidental but deliberately contrived.

Boundary marks and wayfinding Features in the landscape have often been used to mark boundaries. It seems likely that many non-literate peoples in the past used natural landmarks to distinguish everyday territory from sacred land, or to demarcate their traditional hunting or fishing grounds. We may also assume that humans have long used the landscape to support wayfinding, and that rocks, trees, or streams were used by early peoples to help memorize the route from A to B. Again, we can postulate a time when people gradually began to create their own boundary marks and route-markers. We cannot pinpoint when or where this first happened, but we need not doubt that people learnt to demarcate their land by constructing mounds, ditches, or lines of stones, and to supply precise wayfinding instructions by placing broken branches or piles of twigs at intervals along a route. Early humans doubtless knew that footprints or hoofprints can fortuitously reveal where a person or animal has walked in the recent past; in devising methods of wayfinding, they will also have discovered the possibility that one person can deliberately leave footprints for another to

How records began


follow. On other occasions, people might have made marks on trees to indicate a path through the woods, or on rocks to denote the limits of sacred terrain. Signs made by marking or repurposing natural objects seem very distant from our mental prototypes of records in today’s world, but it could nevertheless be argued that, in providing these signs, wayfarers left records of where they had travelled or of the instructions they gave to those who came after them. Signs of this kind certainly offer traces of past activity. All too often, however, a footprint or a pile of twigs proves to be temporary or fragile. If a wayfarer leaves a pile of twigs as a route-marker for a future journey, she presumably hopes that it will survive until it is needed. But the twigs will be vulnerable to a host of hazards, including wind, rain, and disturbance by animals. In record-keeping terms, they are unlikely to offer an adequate level of persistence. As Hansel and Gretel discovered when their route-markers made of breadcrumbs were eaten by birds, there is often a need for signs or marks that can be expected to endure over a longer period of time. At a very early date, people will have become aware that marks made on stones, trees, or other substantial features of the landscape were likely to survive longer than footprints or piles of twigs.

Cave art Some records professionals have looked for the beginnings of record-keeping in the distinctive images of horses, bison, and other animals that prehistoric peoples painted or engraved on the walls and ceilings of caves and rock shelters. Often known as ‘rock art’ or (because the examples in caves are usually better preserved than those in exposed rock shelters) as ‘cave art’, the animal paintings and engravings that have been found in south-western France and northern Spain certainly display remarkable persistence; some are 35,000 or perhaps even 40,000 years old. Animal paintings of a comparable age have also been discovered in Indonesia (Taçon et al., 2018). Some rock art of much more recent date, particularly in North America, is known to have been made for commemorative purposes (Sundstrom, 2012, 335–6; Whitley, 2011, 125–30), and records managers and archivists have sometimes been ready to assume that early cave paintings such as those at Altamira (Spain) and Lascaux (France) were made for similar reasons; record-keeping textbooks have often affirmed that dwellers in these caves ‘documented their lives by painting murals on walls’ (Franks, 2013, xi; Jimerson, 2009, 25) or that the paintings were records of hunting expeditions, propitiatory rites, or ‘herd ownership’ (Angelucci, 2008, 16; Pember and Cowan, 2009, 4; Schwartz and Hernon, 1993, 21). Although these interpretations have been resilient in archival literature, they are almost certainly wrong. Experts who have studied the paintings agree that they had important meanings for those who made them, but no scholarly expert believes that these meanings derived from a wish to ‘document … lives’

6 How records began

or to help people remember activities or events that had taken place in the past. The paintings at Lascaux, Chauvet, Altamira, and elsewhere do not represent specific events; they depict generic animals, not particular animals hunted or encountered on particular occasions. Scholars have offered various explanations of these animal images. Some have thought that the paintings were made in expectation that depicting animals in this way would make them proliferate; a profusion of the animals might increase the food supply for the human community or be propitious for the community’s future welfare. Others have suggested that the paintings may have been connected with rites or initiation ceremonies performed in the caves or that they were manifestations of ideas about the organization and structure of the living world. Currently the most popular, although still controversial, explanation is that they were products of shamanic visions and altered states of consciousness (Lewis-Williams, 2002; Sauvet et al., 2009, 320–1; cf. Lewis-Williams, 2014, 637–8).1 Despite this diversity of opinion, no scholar who has made a detailed study of the animal images now believes that they were painted to provide memory aids or that they functioned as records in prehistoric times. Misunderstandings on this point may perhaps have arisen because some 21st-century scholars are accustomed to speak of their ability to examine ‘the cave art record’, in much the same way as others speak of examining ‘the geological record’ or ‘the fossil record’. Like rock strata or fossils, cave paintings form part of the body of evidence that is now available for scientific study of the past. But those who describe this body of evidence as a ‘record’ see the concept of ‘record’ exclusively from a present-day vantage point; they see records as objects ‘here with us in the present’ (Binford, 2002, 19; Olivier, 2013, 170), which can be rendered informative about the past through appropriate application of scholarly knowledge. Whatever our view of this presentist understanding of ‘records’, we must reject ideas that prehistoric cave paintings were created for record-keeping purposes or that they were used as records by their creators.

Portable devices Early forms of records – or precursors of records – can more plausibly be sought in portable devices used to supplement human memory and cognition. Oral societies in recent times offer numerous examples of portable artefacts that have served as prompts to recitation. In the Luba kingdom in central Africa, carved wooden memory-boards known as lukasa were inset with coloured beads, which provided mnemonic clues and directions to courtiers charged with reciting royal genealogies and histories (Roberts and Roberts, 1996, 140–4). Also in Africa, two centuries ago, the Kongo people drove nails into sculpted wooden figures known as nkisi to assist with the recollection of oath-taking (Mack, 2003, 49–50). In parts of Alaska and Australia, indigenous messengers used wooden sticks to help them remember and verify the messages they conveyed; Alaskan sticks had other objects attached to them,

How records began


and Australian sticks were incised or painted with marks in a variety of designs (Allen, 2015; Kammerzell, 2009, 287).2 Non-literate people in prehistoric times may have used broadly similar devices. From a present-day perspective, might a device of this kind be perceived as a record? Such devices did not preserve the words uttered by those who used them; indeed, the words probably varied from one occasion to another when the same device was used. The role of these artefacts was to stimulate recitation, not to record it. They often possessed mystical as well as practical significance: nkisi, for example, were said to be invested with powers to remove curses and taboos, cure illnesses, end droughts, and bring good fortune, besides providing aids to memory (Cole, 2016, 330). It would be wrong to suppose that the people who made and used these artefacts understood them in the same ways as ‘records’ are usually understood in today’s Western societies. Nevertheless, scholarly commentators who seek an inclusive view of records may choose to interpret these devices as records of the clues and directions that people followed in recitation, as well as – in some sense – symbolic records of the genealogies or oaths to which they alluded. It is very likely that individuals in prehistoric societies also used portable objects and artefacts as personal reminders. Much like knotted handkerchiefs – or strings tied around fingers – in modern times, a natural object or a small artefact can be deployed on or around the body to help to ensure that important future actions are not overlooked. Again, it may seem questionable whether an object used in this way can be described as a record. It is certainly a memory aid, an external device employed to circumvent the frailties of human memory. In much the same way as a wayfinding mark or a message-stick, it serves to underpin memory of matters that might otherwise be forgotten. But because it is rarely recognizable to anyone but its user, and because it is likely to be quickly discarded after its immediate purpose has been served, some commentators may be reluctant to acknowledge a memory aid of this kind as a record. Yet, when we encounter a 4000-year-old written note (‘Regarding 4 minas of silver … that must be taken to Tuttul … remind the king of it’) that survives by chance from the literate culture of Mesopotamia (Charpin, 2010, 177), few of us will have difficulty in identifying it as a record of a reminder instruction. Its unwritten precursors doubtless served similar functions and – despite their transience and limited representational capacities – can be perceived as records that once briefly existed. Although today we may take the view that an effective record needs to be more precise – or more explicit – than a painted message-stick, a knotted handkerchief, or a string tied around a finger, the use of such objects still resonates with the original derivation of ‘record’ from the Latin word recordari, which means ‘to recall to mind’. Portable natural objects (and, later, human-made artefacts) could supplement memory by encoding, or helping people to remember, a variety of details that might otherwise be forgotten. We do not know when aids of this

8 How records began

kind were first used, but we can be confident that they marked an important development in counteracting human forgetfulness. Landscape features such as trees or hills – and monumental constructions such as burial mounds and stone cairns – may assist in preserving memories over much longer periods of time, but they can operate successfully as memory aids only to people who find themselves in roughly the same place as the tree, hill, mound, or cairn. The use of portable devices (whether as mementoes of the past or as prompts or instructions for present or future action) meant that a reminder object could remain accessible to its users irrespective of their location. Detached from the natural environment, devices such as message-sticks may not have been intended for long-term preservation, but their transportability allowed them to support short-term memory of particular messages across space as well as time.

Counting Portable objects can also be used to assist with counting. Humans learnt to count before they learnt to write, but understanding of numbers is not inborn; counting is a skill that the first humans almost certainly lacked. However, most people today can quantify small numbers of items on sight without counting them, and our distant ancestors were probably able to do the same, even before humans acquired the ability to count. When psychologists have attempted to assess the number of items that people can quantify without needing to count them, the number seven has sometimes been proposed, but most studies have suggested a number as low as three or four (Chrisomalis, 2010, 14–15). Quantifying items above this number requires an act of counting, which today can often easily be performed mentally or verbally. But in prehistoric times, when counting was an unfamiliar or newly acquired ability, physical aids to counting were almost certainly found useful – and were perhaps essential – when larger numbers of items were to be quantified. The earliest counting aids may have been human fingers (Overmann, 2019), but counting on fingers – or toes – generally works best when the number of items to be counted is small; quantities above ten or twenty are easier to count using aids external to the human body. The first external counting aids may have been marks or lines drawn on the ground. Other people probably used natural objects that were readily to hand, such as sticks, pebbles, shells, or beans. Unsurprisingly, no evidence of their use as counting aids survives from the prehistoric era, but such use is well-attested in recent times in nonliterate societies in many parts of the world. Counting by making marks on the ground was observed more than two centuries ago among non-literate people in North America and more recently in northern and western Africa (Chrisomalis, 2010, 348; Lagercrantz, 1970, 52–3, 61). In Africa, pebbles and cowrie shells have also been widely used (Lagercrantz, 1970, 52–4; Zaslavsky, 1999, 33, 208–9). Among the Vedda people of Sri Lanka, according to

How records began


mathematician Karl Menninger (1969, 33), if an individual needs to count coconuts, ‘he collects a heap of sticks. To each coconut he assigns … a stick: one nut = one stick’. Like the use of beads and nails as memory devices, the use of aids to counting presupposes an understanding that one object (such as a stick, a pebble, or a mark on the ground) can represent another (such as a coconut). The discovery of the possibilities of material representation signalled a major development in the evolution of human cognition. Although today we take these possibilities for granted, our ancestors 100,000 or 200,000 years ago did not know of them. As archaeologist David Lewis-Williams (2014, 636) remarked, ‘the skill needed to recognize two-dimensional marks as a representation of a three-dimensional thing has to be learned; it is not innate’. Scholars affirm that gestures and spoken language were the earliest forms of deliberate representation of which humans became capable (Donald, 1991, 169; White, 1992, 540) and that although early humans learnt to communicate verbally they lacked the ability to construct or use material representations of things they encountered in the world. Nevertheless, the earliest cave art and the first carvings of human figures demonstrate that our ancestors had acquired the capacity to make pictorial representations more than 35,000 years ago; indeed, to modern eyes, the paintings in caves such as Lascaux reveal their creators as highly skilled artists. The use of marks or small objects as counting aids does not require artistic skills, but it demands cognitive talents of a different order. It implies an ability to conceptualize arbitrary relationships between signs and their meanings: a recognition that items in the world can be represented by means of signs or symbols that do not visibly resemble the items they stand for. It also implies an understanding of a quantitative equivalence between a specific number of items in the world and the same number of signs or symbols. These modes of representation are what anthropologist Irving Hallowell (1950, 165–6; 1968, 235) described as ‘extrinsic symbolization’; according to Hallowell, their initial emergence in prehistoric cultures lay at the root of human rationality, creativity, and imaginative behaviour. After these cognitive developments were achieved, counting could be facilitated either by making a collection of small, easily manoeuvrable objects or by making marks on a convenient surface. Very soon, people will have become aware that, besides assisting with counting, both techniques can also provide a trace – a record – of a completed count. If the person who made the count has forgotten the result, she can revisit the marks on the ground or the heap of pebbles to discover how many coconuts she had or how many items of foodstuff she gave to the person who asked for them. She does not need to be in the same location as these items or handle them for a second time in order to repeat the counting exercise. If a dispute arises and she wants evidence of the completed count, she can point to the heap of pebbles or the marks on the ground and announce: ‘this is the number of pebbles that I counted, or the number of marks that I made’.

10 How records began

These facilities are also available to others besides the person who made the initial count. The recipient can say: ‘this is the number of marks you made, which shows how many coconuts you let me have’. The recipient can re-count the coconuts and make his own set of marks, or a third party can do this on his behalf. If formal methods of arbitration are available, an arbitrator can observe how many marks were made and can potentially gain access to this evidence even if the parties to a dispute are absent. All of this is possible because the marks have qualities of visibility and inspectability, qualities that – as philosophers David Koepsell and Barry Smith (2014, 231) observed – are absent from traces that exist only in human memory. Because marks of this kind are persistent external representations, knowledge of what was done in the past no longer depends on memory and verbal testimony alone. In a rudimentary form, the marks on the ground constitute a record of a past action. Marks could also be made by incising or notching an animal bone or a wooden stick. Unlike marks on the ground or on trees or rocks, a marked object of this kind can easily be transported from one place to another. Objects such as bones are also often remarkably durable. In contrast to marks on the ground and heaps of pebbles, which can be studied only from recent examples, incised or notched objects – bones, pieces of ochre, and even eggshell fragments – of a great age survive today (McBrearty and Brooks, 2000, 522–4). The earliest known bones with incisions are thought to be at least 100,000 years old. However, archaeologists have been very wary of attempts to identify the ‘meaning’ of these early objects, beyond suggesting that some of them may have been human-made and had some kind of significance for their makers; in other cases, the marks they bear may be unconnected with human behaviour. The scholarly consensus is that the notching of bones and sticks as an aid to counting was a much later development. Finds of notched bones between 10,000 and 30,000 years old – in Europe, Africa, and southwest Asia – are commoner than those from earlier periods, and it is widely believed that these objects served a functional purpose; some scholars have identified them as the first examples of tallies (Chrisomalis, 2009, 60; D’Errico, 2001, 34; Schmandt-Besserat, 1992, 165–6). In the human societies of that era, people lived a nomadic life of hunting and gathering to obtain the food they needed to survive. Hunting of animals provided meat, and other foodstuffs were foraged from wild plants. Archaeologist Denise Schmandt-Besserat (2019, 8) has argued that hunter-gatherer people in the Stone Age are likely to have used twigs, grains, or pebbles for counting. In her view, early nomadic hunters also used notched tallies made of antler or bone; these, she claimed, ‘could be tucked in the belt, as hunters customarily carry their personal belongings’ (Schmandt-Besserat, 1992, 166). The survival of numerous notched bones from prehistoric times might seem to favour this interpretation, but certainty is impossible; we can only guess why a nomadic hunter might have wanted to make notches or marks on a bone or other object. Some notched objects may have had magical or ritual

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significance; others may have been purely decorative. Some may have been prompts for telling tales or conveying messages, rather than tallies or aids to counting. Archaeologists and prehistorians agree that hunter-gatherers 30,000 years ago were able to share ideas and coordinate actions in social groups, but they do not know when people first began to count things; it is uncertain how early hunter-gatherers understood plurality and how far they made a transition from a general sense of plurality to precise use of numbers. The advent of counting reveals the initial stirrings of a systematizing view of the world that the earliest hunter-gatherers may have lacked. If later prehistoric hunters made notches on bones or other surfaces to assist with counting, what kinds of things might they have counted? A definitive answer to this question is beyond our reach, but some scholars have believed that the first tallies were created to mark the passage of time. The Gilgamesh epic, originating in Mesopotamia long after the hunter-gatherer era, tells how a woman made marks on a wall to record the number of days that Gilgamesh slept (Dalley, 2000, 116). The marking of the wall provided both a counting mechanism and a means of record-keeping. People may have done much the same in earlier times, perhaps using tallies to record sightings of the moon (Kelley and Milone, 2011, 158; Marshack, 1999; SchmandtBesserat, 2019, 7). Other suggestions are that people might have used tallies to keep track of the number of individuals attending a ceremony or to check that sets of stone tools were complete; in the latter case, a tally would have provided a visual means of verifying that no tools had been mislaid, even for people with limited understanding of numeration (Biggs, 2016, 4). Scholars have often thought it less likely that early hunter-gatherers used tallies to count or record numbers of animals killed or berries collected. In recent times, however, non-literate Fiji islanders and Filipino warriors are known to have marked the number of animals or enemies they had slain by making notches in their clubs or swords; the Ngala people of central Africa recorded animal kills by cutting notches in their house-posts; and warriors in parts of eastern and southern Africa made cuts on their own bodies to record victories in battle (Lagercrantz, 1973, 570, 577; Menninger, 1969, 39). In some societies, the recording of kills may have served as a means of showing respect to the animals that had given themselves to the hunter, as much as or more than a means of recording the hunter’s prowess. Nevertheless, desires to commemorate achievements seem deeply rooted in human character. In earlier ages, these desires were doubtless largely fulfilled in oral domains, but it is perhaps not inconceivable that people in the prehistoric era sometimes used tallies to mark successful hunting expeditions or other achievements in their lives. Our knowledge of hunting and gathering behaviour in more recent times suggests that counting for ‘economic’ or transactional purposes is not normally a part of hunter-gatherer life. In most hunter-gatherer communities, when animal prey has been caught, the meat is shared and eaten within a very short time. Hunter-gatherers usually have strict protocols about how catches

12 How records began

are to be divided among members of the community, but they rarely lay up stores of food for future use (Coté, 2015, 243; Jones and Clarke, 2018, 47). Because the proceeds of hunting or gathering expeditions are likely to have been shared immediately, some scholars have argued that early nomadic hunter-gatherers saw no need for accounting and did not use tallies to record distributions of food (Schmandt-Besserat, 1992, 170; cf. Chrisomalis, 2012, 233). It seems likely that the first recordings of transactions were made when people began to store their foodstuffs. Over the past 40,000 years, many hunter-gatherer communities have operated at a very simple level, with an egalitarian and wholly nomadic lifestyle and few material goods, but some have shown tendencies towards social stratification and greater levels of complexity (Hayden, 2014). In areas well-endowed with natural food resources, some hunter-gatherer peoples have largely or wholly abandoned nomadism in favour of more settled ways of life. Hunter-gatherers who have taken up stable residence in particular localities have sometimes developed communal food storage practices (Rothman, 2016, 21), and may perhaps have recognized a need to count and record foodstuffs moved into and out of storage. More generally, however, the storage of food is associated with a transition from hunting and gathering to a way of life centred on agriculture. Following the end of the last ‘ice age’ and the retreat of global glaciation, about 12,000 years ago, people in some parts of the world gradually began to dwell in villages and started to cultivate cereal crops (Strong, 2018, 74). In many localities, the first recording of transactions may have been linked to the development and growth of stable farming communities, where cereals were stored in communal granaries for later distribution, probably with village headmen acting as collectors and redistributors. As agricultural outputs grew, using human memory to keep track of large quantities of grain probably became increasingly difficult, and people will have looked for other means of monitoring the storage of their produce and ensuring its equitable distribution. Early agriculturalists are likely to have sought to count the quantities of grain entering communal stores and the allocations made when supplies were taken out; they may also have sought recording methods to help them recall how much grain was held in store and to provide evidence of accruals and disbursements in case of dispute. Later, after the domestication of goats, sheep, pigs, and cattle, people in early societies also came to perceive a need for persistent records of the numbers of livestock entrusted to a herder.3 Marks on the ground would not offer the degree of persistence that was required, but a tally made of wood or bone would have offered a solution. Unless it succumbs to a natural disaster or is intentionally destroyed, a bone, an antler, or a piece of wood will remain intact for a considerable time; indeed, a notched bone can survive for thousands of years. Farmers and herders in many regions of the world have used tallies as a means of recording grain harvested, livestock assigned, or work completed.

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Another early form of record that offers a level of persistence is the knotted cord or string. The tying of knots in strings or in stalks of grass as a means of counting the passage of time has been observed in non-literate societies in Africa, Asia, and North and South America (Huylebrouck, 2019, 80–3; Lagercrantz, 1968, 118–19, 124; Leechman and Harrington, 1921, 6–7; Rosaldo, 1982, 220). A vestige of similar practices in the ancient world can be seen in the story, told by the Greek historian Herodotus, of how the Persian king Darius instructed his allies to remain on guard for 60 days; Darius tied 60 knots in a leather strap and told the allied leaders to count the days of guard duty by untying a knot each day (Purves, 2006). In Africa, tying of knots has also been used in counting elephant tusks and other commodities (Lagercrantz, 1968, 116). When knots are made to help count commodities, the knots persist to provide a record of the total count. Knot records have been found on the west coast of the American continent from Alaska to Chile. They were also widespread in south-east Asia, although apparently unknown in Australia (Birket-Smith, 1966–7). In parts of Africa, too, knotted strings were widely used, for recording dowries, numbers of children born, or numbers of days worked (Lagercrantz, 1968). The antiquity of these practices is not known, but knotted threads and threaded wooden batons between 1300 and 3000 years old found in western parts of South America have tentatively been identified as recording devices (Splitstoser, 2014). In China, there was already a tradition two and a half millennia ago that knotted cords had been used in the past for ‘ruling’ or ‘bringing order’ (Nugent, 2018, 176–7), and scholars believe that their use is likely to have originated at a much earlier date (Birket-Smith, 1966–7, 20; Fischer, 2001, 14). Our ancestors acquired knotting abilities many thousands of years ago and would have been able to make basic records by tying knots in easily-available natural objects such as grass or reeds, but pieces of grass are necessarily of limited length; more complex knot records require the construction of cords, which is only possible for people who have attained appropriate braiding skills. On the west coast of Africa, two centuries ago, only enslaved people used grass for tying knots; people of higher status used twisted strings of plant fibre (Lagercrantz, 1968, 121).

From tallies to tokens To a modern eye, although tallies and knots supply a degree of persistence, their recording capabilities seem limited because they provide only very basic modes of representation. The simplest forms of knot record or tally follow the principle of one-to-one matching; each item counted is represented by one knot or one notch. When additional items are counted, they are marked by additional knots or notches, and the number of knots or notches can grow until a cord is fully utilized or the notches occupy the whole surface of a bone or wooden stick.

14 How records began

According to Schmandt-Besserat (1992, 189), ‘bone tallies … used in the Near East about 15,000 to 10,000 BC appear to illustrate the simplest form of counting: one-to-one correspondence’. This elementary method, she suggested, may have sufficed for the ‘modest needs’ of early economies. In general, a single notch of a single type stood for a single unit of whatever commodity was being recorded. But some tallies surviving from this early period use a variety of types of notch (Menninger, 1969, 227, 241; Schmandt-Besserat, 1992, 159); we can infer that their makers were perhaps beginning to find simple tallying methods inadequate as they sought to count or record commodities in greater quantities. Some later non-literate peoples certainly recognized this problem and developed more advanced methods of notation. When Fiji islanders found that the number of notches on their clubs became unwieldy, they made every tenth notch larger than the others, thereby making it easier to envisage the total (Menninger, 1969, 39). About 300 or 400 years ago, Danish farmers who made tallies by marking walls or wooden posts used a distinctive symbol for each fifth mark (Steensberg, 1989, 19). Examples of enlarged or distinctive notches have also been found on tallies from Africa (Lagercrantz, 1973, 572, 576). In every case, the relationship between tallies and items in the real world is representational; each mark or each notch (large or small) on the tally represents a counted item. But the representational scheme reveals nothing about the kind of items that people chose to count. Those who made the tallies or observed their making knew what these items were, but outsiders cannot know what commodities were being counted unless they are informed verbally. If people with the relevant knowledge have forgotten what they once knew, or if they are absent or deceased, the identity of the counted items will almost certainly be unrecoverable. A third party encountering an unexplained tally may perhaps assume that each counted item was of a single type – that if, for example, the first notch on the tally represents a goat, then the second notch represents another goat – but even this cannot be certain. The tally-maker may have counted sheep and goats together, without attempting to distinguish how many of the total were sheep and how many were goats. Using a single tally to record a combined total of goats and coconuts seems less likely, but it is clearly not impossible (cf. Jenkinson, 1925, 320). In the absence of additional information or firsthand knowledge, the meanings of tallies always remain enigmatic. When a basic tally system is employed, anyone who wants to record sheep separately from goats will need to use two tallies. But one notched stick or knotted string looks much like another, and third parties are likely to have difficulty telling them apart; even the person who made them will probably have difficulty in distinguishing them if he or she accumulates a large collection. Multiple tallies introduce further complications. If a first tally represents items of a single type counted at a particular season of the year, does a second signify items of a different type counted in the same season? Or might it indicate items of the same type counted in a different season? Were the two

How records began


counts made by different people? Did the tally-makers count newly acquired items or items they already possessed? The possible variables are manifold, but basic tallies do not allow such variables to be recorded; apart from numeric totals, everything else still depends on memory. Similar issues arise when records are kept using pebbles, shells, twigs, or beans. Such devices may offer effective modes of short-term quantitative record-keeping for their makers and for others in the maker’s immediate social group, but they have minimal capacity for conveying meaning to third parties distant in space or time. At the point of their creation, external records of this kind always co-exist and interact with methods that rely on human memory and oral communication. Modes of recording that neither indicate what type of commodity was recorded nor permit the categorization of different types inevitably seem defective to modern eyes, but we should be wary of attributing similar concerns to makers and users of records in other ages. Nevertheless, people who have needed records in the past have not always been content with such limited representational capabilities. At different times, many record-makers in non-literate societies have experimented with ways of enhancing the expressiveness of the records they created. In Schmandt-Besserat’s view, ‘simple … tallies would be adequate only in communities where just a few obvious items were being recorded’, and communities with more wide-ranging economies are likely to have sought recording methods that offered greater capacity (Schmandt-Besserat, 2019, 8). Attempts to modify tallies or other representational devices, to create records with a degree of categorization, have been attested in non-literate or semi-literate societies in many parts of the world. In southern Africa, for example, shepherds who recorded animal and bird kills by cutting notches in their catapults are said to have used small notches on the outside of the catapult to denote rats and larger ones on the inside to denote partridges (Lagercrantz, 1973, 575). In Sudan, a century and a half ago, a complaint was made that women, children, and cattle had been carried off by slave-traders; the complainants presented bundles of twigs that they had prepared and kept as evidence; the cattle and the human victims were represented by twigs of different lengths (Lagercrantz, 1970, 57). In pre-Hispanic times, people in Bolivia are said to have used white pebbles to record loans, while black pebbles represented debts (Urton, 2009, 812–13). Different varieties of bean were used in twentieth-century Peru to distinguish the counting of sheep from the counting of cows (Topic, 2016, 139). These practices did not necessarily convey meaning to outsiders, but – at a very basic and purely local level – they enabled individuals and communities to differentiate their records. Although we cannot be certain that experiments of this kind were made in prehistoric times, archaeologists have sometimes thought that people in Europe 15,000 years ago may have attempted some form of categorization by varying the spatial distribution of marks on incised objects (D’Errico, 1995, 200–1). There is stronger evidence for similar developments in south-west Asia at or around the time when agriculture was first introduced. Throughout

16 How records began

this region, from Iran and Iraq to Syria and Anatolia, archaeologists have found small clay objects, varying in size from 1 to 3 centimetres, in a range of geometric shapes including spheres, cones, discs, and cylinders. These objects have been found in large numbers in excavation levels extending over several millennia; the earliest are between 11,000 and 12,000 years old (Bennison-Chapman, 2019, 239; Robson, 2007, 40; Schmandt-Besserat, 1992, 36–9). Denise SchmandtBesserat’s writings refer to them as ‘tokens’, and this label has been widely adopted in other archaeological literature. The exact function of the earliest tokens is still a subject of scholarly debate, but it is generally thought that many (if not all) of them were used for counting and possibly recording the storage and subsequent distribution of agricultural products or other foodstuffs. There may have been ritual or religious aspects to their use, but ritual and accountancy were perhaps not fully distinct in southwest Asia in early times (Jasim and Oates, 1986, 355). Initially, accountants may have used tokens simply as aids to the process of counting, but the use of tokens for keeping records of accounting transactions at a later date is not in doubt (Englund, 1998, 48; Reichel, 2013, 60).4 When tokens were first used as counting aids, each token may have simply represented a numerical value. It is possible that earlier inhabitants of the Mesopotamian region had used stones in counting and that ‘stone tokens were gradually replaced by tokens made of … clay’ (Nissen et al., 1993, 11). Clay was widely available throughout the region and allowed the tokens to be fashioned in a variety of shapes; it is probable that, from an early stage, the manufacture of different shapes allowed each shape to be used to represent a different commodity. Following this innovation, it will have become much easier to count and record different categories of goods and to keep records of them on a larger scale (Schmandt-Besserat, 1992, 161). Initially, individuals may have assigned meanings to token shapes on a more or less ad hoc basis. As archaeologist Paul Zimansky (1993, 516) suggested, it is likely that ‘various people at various times exploited the few geometric shapes that are relatively easy to make in clay’ and used them to represent specific commodities in whatever way they chose. As time passed, however, members of local communities doubtless began to recognize a collective interest in using the same shapes to represent the same commodities. Agreement on the meanings to be attached to each shape was probably reached informally in different places at different moments, but it seems likely that separate local usages gradually coalesced and a measure of uniformity developed.5 Shared understanding of token shapes and conventions will have allowed records to function across larger social groups and over longer periods of time. The deployment of ‘tokens’ in the Mesopotamian region seems to mark a number of important turning-points in human approaches to recording: from reliance on natural objects to use of purpose-made artefacts, from keeping records of simple counts to keeping records of transactions, and from mere quantification of totals to creation of records that enabled a degree of categorization. Attributing

How records began


these changes exclusively to the adoption of agriculture is almost certainly an oversimplification. We need not doubt that many interconnected factors were in play, including the introduction of more complex social structures and perhaps the beginnings of specialized crafts within Mesopotamian society. The development of enhanced forms of record-making and record-keeping may also have been associated with an enlargement of the human population and an increasing frequency of interactions between people who were largely unknown to each other (cf. Mullins et al., 2013). Nevertheless, it seems certain that the growth of settled villages, food storage practices, and organized agriculture were key factors. Outside Mesopotamia, archaeologists have found similar small clay objects in several other parts of the world, including China, Turkmenistan, Sudan, Italy, Slovenia, and the Balkans; fashioned into geometric shapes, these objects have also been claimed as ‘tokens’ (Bonora et al., 2014; Budja, 1998; Schmandt-Besserat, 2012), and their first appearance in each region broadly appears to coincide with the development of stable communities or the beginnings of agriculture in the region concerned. In every locality where agricultural practices were introduced, modes of life were radically altered as people became obliged to structure their work around a temporal cycle of seasons and harvests. Scholars have argued that these changes required or resulted in the acquisition of new concepts of time, both short-term in relation to immediate farming tasks and long-term in relation to past obligations, present demands, and future planning (Bradley, 1993, 6, 18; Ezzamel and Hoskin, 2002, 345; cf. Benz, 2020). While older or more traditional senses of a fusion of past and present will not have been wholly lost, new levels of awareness of the linear passage of time will have underpinned – and been underpinned by – the emergence of new record-keeping techniques. As the introductory chapter of this book suggested, recognition of the ‘pastness’ of the past would seem to be a precondition for – and perhaps often leads directly to – recognition of needs for persistent records. After the advent of clay tokens in south-west Asia, tallies remained in use; the two methods of quantitative recording seem to have co-existed (Jasim and Oates, 1986, 353; Schmandt-Besserat, 1992, 168). A Mesopotamian poem, Laḫar-Ašnan, composed by an unknown Sumerian about 4000 years ago, testifies to the continuing use of tallies in the herding of sheep and goats: Every day your count is made, Your tally-stick put in the ground, So that your shepherd may tell … how many ewes there are … and how many lambs; How many goats, and how many kids. (Reinink and Vanstiphout, 1991, 27) When a tally or a set of tokens is used for record-making, a record may be created in a single session; alternatively, the record may be created incrementally, by

18 How records began

accumulating notches or tokens over a period of time. Laḫar-Ašnan implies that stocktaking counts were made daily and checked against shepherds’ tallies to verify that no animals had been lost. We can imagine that, when sheep were assigned to a shepherd, it would have been usual to count them and create a record of the count on the day when the shepherd’s duties began. If new lambs were born at later dates, additional notches could be added to the tally over time, but if the size of the flock remained stable the notches made when the tally was initially constructed would continue to serve as a record of the number of animals for which the shepherd was responsible. An incremental approach to record-making would come into play when events led to the gradual emergence and eventual recording of a ‘grand total’, and would presumably have been normal practice when crops were brought into a communal storehouse as harvesting progressed over a number of days or weeks. Further notches could be added to a tally, or further tokens added to an existing set, whenever a new consignment arrived at the storehouse. Compared with tallies, sets of tokens offer several advantages to their users. Tokens can be manipulated and rearranged during the counting process, thus helping the user to perform preliminary arithmetic before calculations are finalized (MacGinnis et al., 2014, 303), and they can allow a completed account to be modified if errors are discovered or circumstances change. Tokens can easily be separated when the quantities recorded need to be adjusted downwards: when animals die or are detached from a flock, or when the quantity of goods in a storehouse is reduced, an appropriate number of tokens can be removed from the relevant set. Downward adjustment of a total is also fairly simple if a record is made using knots; when knotted strings were used in Africa in more recent times for recording human births, a knot was untied whenever a child died (Lagercrantz, 1968, 120). However, notches on tallies of bone or wood are irreversible, and a new tally must be created if numbers recorded on an existing tally are to be decreased. It is not difficult to see why early farming societies sometimes sought methods of record-keeping that made it easy to adjust existing records. Recording quantities using sets of tokens facilitates such adjustments and would seem particularly convenient when stock reductions occur at frequent intervals. But such methods are not risk-free; there is always a danger that a record may be altered unintentionally or that deliberate but unauthorized changes may be made it to it. Like any set of small objects, a set of tokens recording a transaction can easily be disturbed or inadvertently broken up. Tallies and knot records are probably less liable to accidental disturbance, but can be subject to malicious tampering by means of illicit addition of notches or knots; knot records and token sets are also open to possible illicit removal of knots or tokens. Scholars have suggested that, to counter these risks, Mesopotamians may have begun to store tokens in locations with restricted access or may have kept each set of tokens in a container, such as a basket or leather bag (Nissen et al., 1993, 11; Schmandt-Besserat, 1992, 97; cf. Schmandt-Besserat, 1995, 2101). Archaeologists

How records began


have found clay tokens in bowls and jars at a fifth-millennium site in eastern Iraq (Jasim and Oates, 1986, 355). However, storage in a basket, bowl, or jar can only offer limited safeguards against accidental loss or deliberate tampering. Eventually, a need for greater security became apparent and more robust systems came into use. According to Schmandt-Besserat (2010, 29), ‘about 3500 BC, … envelopes in the shape of round, hollow balls of clay were invented to store tokens’. Clay ‘envelopes’ containing tokens have been discovered in several areas of south-west Asia, including Iran, Iraq, Israel, and Syria.6 They are between 5 and 10 centimetres in diameter; the number of tokens secured in a single envelope varies from two to fifteen. Most of the localities where the envelopes were found had cultural associations with Uruk (southern Iraq), and it has generally been thought that the use of envelopes originated in Uruk and was brought from there to other places in the region. Although some of the envelopes were discovered in domestic structures, many were found in areas near temples, and scholars have often assumed that the tokens placed in each envelope represented a single transaction connected with temple administration, such as a delivery of specific produce to a temple (Charvát, 2019, 5–6; Englund, 1998, 56; Reichel, 2013, 60– 1; Schmandt-Besserat, 1992, 110–20). Unlike tokens stored in open baskets, tokens enclosed in clay envelopes could not be disturbed or tampered with, except by breaking the envelope; interference in the record could not remain undetected.7 The use of clay envelopes demonstrates how, even when the physical medium used to construct a record provides a basic level of persistence, additional measures are sometimes needed for the record’s protection. We cannot hope to know how people in ancient Mesopotamia articulated these concerns, but we can hardly doubt that they were aware of them. In effect, they acknowledged that a need for security in record-keeping outweighed the envelopes’ lack of manipulability and the possible effort of having to make a new envelope when – for example – lambs were born or additional goods were received and stored. However reluctant we may be to apply modern conceptual terminology to record-keeping in the ancient world, it seems impossible to avoid the conclusion that the Mesopotamians who designed and used these clay envelopes were actively seeking to protect what we would now call the integrity of the records. Although concerns for record integrity are first visible in Mesopotamia, similar concerns can be seen at work in other non-literate or pre-literate societies at later dates. In the west African kingdom of Dahomey (Benin), two centuries ago, pebbles representing population counts were preserved in sacks in the royal palace where their custodial arrangements inhibited dispersal and unauthorized access (Herskovits, 1932). Elsewhere in Africa, the integrity of shells or pieces of wood used as records of debts or dowries was underwritten by mounting them on a string, so that the components of the record would not become separated (Lagercrantz, 1968, 123). In medieval Europe, when transactions were recorded using wooden tallies, it was common practice to

20 How records began

divide the tally lengthwise, to give each party an identical record; the possibility of comparison in the event of a dispute provided a level of security against tampering (Jenkinson, 1911, 367). Our knowledge of the origins and initial development of record-making in diverse societies remains – and will always remain – incomplete, but we can trace an outline of events with considerably more confidence in south-west Asia than in any other region. In the world’s first farming economy, the evolution of new purposefully-designed recording systems allowed pre-literate Mesopotamians to manage the herding of animals and the storage and disposition of agricultural produce. Initially, perhaps, the individuals who administered and recorded storage procedures were also required to work on the land, but over time store-keeping and administration became a specialized occupation in its own right. Later, administration became separated from routine store-keeping; administrators became controllers, who managed the records of produce rather than the produce itself, and many who undertook this responsibility were doubtless able to use it to enhance their personal prestige (Schmandt-Besserat and Moghimi, 2017, 180). Although it seems likely, as Assyriologist Piotr Steinkeller (2004, 68) suggested, that almost every emerging society – ancient or modern – developed methods of recording, it should not be assumed that the Mesopotamian experience was universal. Tokens were characteristic of south-west Asia, but people in other parts of the world often chose to use tallies or knotted strings. The recording of activities and events was always context-dependent, and different societies adopted different techniques and processes, at different times and at different paces. Recording devices in non-literate cultures varied in their forms, their functionalities, and their degrees of sophistication; the junctures at which needs for records were discovered, the nature of the initial responses to those needs, and the speed at which technical changes occurred also differed from one society to another. At a basic level, however, the elementary challenges of making and keeping records – how to determine an appropriate system of representation, and how to underwrite the persistence and integrity of records – appear to have been very similar wherever and whenever people encountered them.

Notes 1 An overview of the various explanations that have been proposed and the controversies surrounding them can be found in the work of archaeologist Andrew Lawson (2012, 199–228). The ‘food supply’ explanation has now seemingly been discredited by evidence that, in many cases, the species of animals depicted on cave walls are not the species that the people of the locality predominantly ate (Clottes, 2016, 12; Lawson, 2012, 206). For a critique of suggestions that early cave paintings may have functioned as a mode of ‘information exchange’, see Dowson (1998). 2 Almost all scholars who have studied the Australian message-sticks have interpreted them as mnemonic devices, but this interpretation has been challenged by anthropologist Piers Kelly (2020, 146), who argued that they may have served primarily to

How records began







constitute and reinforce the authority or credibility of the messengers who carried them. A message-stick probably had a number of interlocking roles, including a ‘passport’ function that allowed its bearer to cross different territories without hindrance (Kelly, 2020, 138). In more recent times, tallies recording numbers of animals entrusted to cowherds or shepherds have been widely used in many parts of the world (Gelb, 1963, 3–4). In some societies, counting of livestock may not have been practised in the early days of animal husbandry; non-literate and semi-literate societies often have taboos against counting living creatures, and herders who know their animals by sight can detect whether any have strayed without needing to count them (Zaslavsky, 1999, 52, 255–6; citing 2 Samuel, chapter 24, and 1 Chronicles, chapter 21). But there is firm evidence that animal counts were recorded in ancient Mesopotamia: see note 7. Archaeologist Lucy Bennison-Chapman (2019; 2020) disagreed with the interpretations proposed by other scholars and argued that counting was only one of many uses for which the earliest ‘tokens’ could have been employed. Scholars also disagree about the date at which tokens were first used for record-keeping rather than merely for counting. According to Eleanor Robson (2007, 39), ‘from about 6000 BC, Neolithic villagers used simple geometric counters in clay and stone to record exchange transactions’, but Clemens Reichel (2013, 60) argued that most tokens were probably used only for counting until ‘the Middle to Late Uruk period (3500–3300 BC)’. Because the same token shapes have been found at large numbers of sites, Schmandt-Besserat came to believe that a single system, in which each shape always had the same meaning, operated throughout south-west Asia; she also claimed that she had decoded the system and that, for example, ovoid tokens represented jars of oil, cones small measures of grain, and spheres large measures of grain (SchmandtBesserat, 1992, 161). But few other scholars accept the notion of a single system operating across a large region, and her ‘translations’ of the meanings of particular token types have been widely criticized (Bennison-Chapman, 2019; Lieberman, 1980; Zimansky, 1993). Although the use of tokens in accounting and record-keeping seems to have been accepted throughout the region, it is probable that any significance attributed to different token shapes would initially have been a matter of local variation. Equally controversial is Schmandt-Besserat’s insistence that the token shapes directly influenced the symbols used at a later date in the emergence of cuneiform writing. Although her interpretations have sometimes been reported uncritically in the literature of archives and records management (e.g., Franks, 2013, 1–3), most scholars of Mesopotamian history are inclined to reject them. A more generally accepted view is that, even if the first adopters of writing in Mesopotamia may have ‘relied on … tokens … for some elements, proto-cuneiform writing was materially and structurally a completely new semiotic form’ (Michalowski, 1993, 998). According to Reichel (2013, 68), the archaeological sites where these envelopes were found ‘are notoriously difficult to date with precision’. Scholars have suggested various dates between 3700 and 3300 (Englund, 2011, 33; Reichel, 2013, 60; Schmandt-Besserat, 1992, 114). These finds appear to have had antecedents: fragments of clay artefacts very similar to the fourth-millennium envelopes have been discovered in an earlier context in Syria (Bennison-Chapman, 2014, 432–3, 658–9; Charvát, 2019, 7). Our understanding of how the clay envelopes worked derives from a study by Assyriologist Leo Oppenheim, who examined ‘a clay ball from the middle of the second millennium BC, which contained 48 pebbles in an inner cavity’ (Englund, 1998, 46). The ball or envelope that Oppenheim studied came from a literate culture (Nuzi, in north-east Iraq) and bore a written inscription stating that the ‘pebbles’ represented the same number of sheep and goats. It also bore the seal of a named shepherd (Abusch, 1981, 3). Another written text from Nuzi provides a similar list

22 How records began of animals and states that they were handed over to a shepherd of the same name (Oppenheim, 1959, 127). Although these items are of relatively late date, they demonstrate that tokens and clay envelopes were used for counting and recording. The Nuzi envelope was evidently made when the animals were entrusted to the shepherd and was presumably used to verify the size of the flock at the end of the shepherd’s term of duty (Abusch, 1981, 7; Oppenheim, 1959, 123).

References Abusch, Tzvi (1981) ‘Notes on a Pair of Matching Texts: A Shepherd’s Bulla and an Owner’s Receipt’, in M. A. Morrison and D. I. Owen, eds., Studies on the Civilization and Culture of Nuzi and the Hurrians, Eisenbrauns. Allen, Lindy (2015) ‘Message Sticks and Indigenous Diplomacy’, in Kate DarianSmith and Penelope Edmonds, eds., Conciliation on Colonial Frontiers, Routledge. Andrae, Dominic (2015) ‘Of Place and Alice Springs: Two Contested Sites in an Australian Outback Community’, Przestrzen´ Społeczna/Social Space 5 (2): 17–42. Angelucci, Patrizia (2008) Breve storia degli archivi e dell’archivistica, Morlacchi. Arnold, Bettina (2010) ‘Memory Maps: The Mnemonics of Central European Iron Age Burial Mounds’, in Katina T. Lillios and Vasileios Tsamis, eds., Material Mnemonics: Everyday Memory in Prehistoric Europe, Oxbow. Bennison-Chapman, Lucy E. (2014) ‘The Role and Function of “Tokens” and Sealing Practices in the Neolithic of the Near East’, doctoral thesis, Liverpool University, 2008477.pdf Bennison-Chapman, Lucy E. (2019) ‘Reconsidering “Tokens”: The Neolithic Origins of Accounting or Multifunctional, Utilitarian Tools?’, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 29 (2): 233–259. Bennison-Chapman, Lucy E. (2020) ‘Conscious Tokens?’, in Ian Hodder, ed., Consciousness, Creativity, and Self at the Dawn of Settled Life, Cambridge University Press. Benz, Marion (2020) ‘When Time Begins to Matter’, in Ian Hodder, ed., Consciousness, Creativity, and Self at the Dawn of Settled Life, Cambridge University Press. Biggs, Norman (2016) Quite Right: The Story of Mathematics, Measurement, and Money, Oxford University Press. Binford, Lewis R. (2002) In Pursuit of the Past: Decoding the Archaeological Record, University of California Press. Birket-Smith, Kaj (1966–7) ‘The Circumpacific Distribution of Knot Records’, Folk 8–9: 15–24. Bonora, G. L., M. Vidale, M. Mariottini, and G. Guida (2014) ‘On the Use of Tokens and Seals along the Kopet Dagh Piedmont, Turkmenistan (ca. 6000–3000 BCE)’, Paléorient 40 (1): 55–71. Borgmann, Albert (1999) Holding On to Reality, University of Chicago Press. Bradley, Richard (1993) Altering the Earth, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Budja, Mihael (1998) ‘Clay Tokens: Accounting before Writing in Eurasia’, Documenta Praehistorica 25: 219–235. Charpin, Dominique (2010) Reading and Writing in Babylon, Harvard University Press. Charvát, Petr (2019) ‘Spheres of Interest: Hollow Clay Balls at the Dawn of Ancient Near Eastern History’, Chatreššar 2019 (2): 5–22.

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Chrisomalis, Stephen (2009) ‘The Origins and Co-Evolution of Literacy and Numeracy’, in David R. Olson and Nancy Torrance, eds., The Cambridge Handbook of Literacy, Cambridge University Press. Chrisomalis, Stephen (2010) Numerical Notation, Cambridge University Press. Chrisomalis, Stephen (2012) ‘Trends and Transitions in the History of Written Numerals’, in Stephen D. Houston, ed., The Shape of Script: How and Why Writing Systems Change, SAR. Clottes, Jean (2016) What Is Paleolithic Art?, University of Chicago Press. Cole, Thomas B. (2016) ‘Nkisi Nkondi (Nail Figure)’, Journal of the American Medical Association 315 (4): 330–331. Coté, Charlotte (2015) ‘Food Sovereignty, Food Hegemony, and the Revitalization of Indigenous Whaling Practices’, in Robert Warrior, ed., The World of Indigenous North America, Routledge. Cubitt, Geoffrey (2007) History and Memory, Manchester University Press. Dalley, Stephanie, ed. (2000) Myths from Mesopotamia, 2nd edn., Oxford University Press. D’Errico, Francesco (1995) ‘A New Model and Its Implications for the Origin of Writing: The La Marche Antler Revisited’, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 5 (2): 163–206. D’Errico, Francesco (2001) ‘Memories out of Mind: The Archaeology of the Oldest Memory Systems’, in April Nowell, ed., In the Mind’s Eye: Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Evolution of Human Cognition, International Monographs in Prehistory. Donald, Merlin (1991) Origins of the Modern Mind, Harvard University Press. Donald, Merlin (2001) A Mind So Rare, W. W. Norton. Dowson, Thomas A. (1998) ‘Rock Art: Handmaiden to Studies of Cognitive Evolution’, in Colin Renfrew and Chris Scarre, eds., Cognition and Material Culture, McDonald Institute. Englund, Robert K. (1998) ‘Texts from the Late Uruk Period’, in Josef Bauer, Robert K. Englund, and Manfred Krebernik, eds., Mesopotamien: Späturuk-Zeit und Frühdynastische Zeit, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Englund, Robert K. (2011) ‘Accounting in Proto-Cuneiform’, in Karen Radner and Eleanor Robson, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture, Oxford University Press. Ezzamel, Mahmoud, and Keith Hoskin (2002) ‘Retheorizing Accounting, Writing and Money with Evidence from Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt’, Critical Perspectives on Accounting 13 (3): 333–367. Fischer, Steven R. (2001) A History of Writing, Reaktion. Franks, Patricia C. (2013) Records and Information Management, Neal-Schuman. Gelb, I. J. (1963) A Study of Writing, 2nd edn., University of Chicago Press. Hallowell, A. Irving (1950) ‘Personality Structure and the Evolution of Man’, American Anthropologist 52 (2): 159–173. Hallowell, A. Irving (1968) ‘Self, Society, and Culture in Phylogenetic Perspective’, in M. F. Ashley Montagu, ed., Culture: Man’s Adaptive Dimension, Oxford University Press. Hamilakis, Yannis (2010) ‘Re-Collecting the Fragments: Archaeology as Mnemonic Practice’, in Katina T. Lillios and Vasileios Tsamis, eds., Material Mnemonics: Everyday Memory in Prehistoric Europe, Oxbow.

24 How records began Hayden, Brian (2014) ‘Social Complexity’, in Vicki Cummings, Peter Jordan, and Marek Zvelebil, eds., The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Hunter-Gatherers, Oxford University Press. Herskovits, Melville J. (1932) ‘Population Statistics in the Kingdom of Dahomey’, Human Biology 4 (2): 252–261. Huylebrouck, Dirk (2019) Africa and Mathematics, Springer. Jasim, Sabah Abboud, and Joan Oates (1986) ‘Early Tokens and Tablets in Mesopotamia: New Information from Tell Abada and Tell Brak’, World Archaeology 17 (3): 348–362. Jenkinson, Hilary (1911) ‘Exchequer Tallies’, Archaeologia 62: 367–380. Jenkinson, Hilary (1925) ‘Medieval Tallies, Public and Private’, Archaeologia 74: 289–351. Jimerson, Randall C. (2009) Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice, Society of American Archivists. Jones, David S., and Philip A. Clarke (2018) ‘Aboriginal Culture and Food–Landscape Relationships in Australia’, in Joshua Zeunert and Tim Waterman, eds., Routledge Handbook of Landscape and Food, Routledge. Kammerzell, Frank (2009) ‘Defining Non-Textual Marking Systems, Writing, and Other Systems of Graphic Information Processing’, in Petra Andrássy, Julia Budka, and Frank Kammerzell, eds., Non-Textual Marking Systems, Writing and Pseudo Script from Prehistory to Modern Times, Seminar für Ägyptologie und Koptologie. Kelley, David H., and Eugene F. Milone (2011) Exploring Ancient Skies: A Survey of Ancient and Cultural Astronomy, 2nd edn., Springer. Kelly, Piers (2020) ‘Australian Message Sticks: Old Questions, New Directions’, Journal of Material Culture 25 (2): 133–152. Koepsell, David, and Barry Smith (2014) ‘Beyond Paper’, The Monist 97 (2): 222–235. Koziol, Geoffrey (2012) The Politics of Memory and Identity in Carolingian Royal Diplomas, Brepols. Lagercrantz, Sture (1968) ‘African Tally-Strings’, Anthropos 63 (1–2): 115–128. Lagercrantz, Sture (1970) ‘Tallying by Means of Lines, Stones, and Sticks’, Paideuma 16: 52–62. Lagercrantz, Sture (1973) ‘Counting by Means of Tally Sticks or Cuts on the Body in Africa’, Anthropos 68 (3–4): 569–588. Lawson, Andrew J. (2012) Painted Caves: Palaeolithic Rock Art in Western Europe, Oxford University Press. Leechman, J. D., and M. R. Harrington (1921) String Records of the Northwest, Museum of the American Indian. Lewis-Williams, J. David (2002) The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art, Thames & Hudson. Lewis-Williams, J. David (2014) ‘Art for the Living’, in Vicki Cummings, Peter Jordan, and Marek Zvelebil, eds., The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Hunter-Gatherers, Oxford University Press. Lieberman, Stephen J. (1980) ‘Of Clay Pebbles, Hollow Clay Balls, and Writing: A Sumerian View’, American Journal of Archaeology 84 (3): 339–358. MacGinnis, John, M. Willis Monroe, Dirk Wicke, and Timothy Matney (2014) ‘Artifacts of Cognition: The Use of Clay Tokens in a Neo-Assyrian Provincial Administration’, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 24 (2): 289–306. Mack, John (2003) The Museum of the Mind: Art and Memory in World Cultures, British Museum.

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Marshack, Alexander (1999) ‘Space and Time in Pre-Agricultural Europe and the Near East: The Evidence for Early Structural Complexity,’ in Michael Hudson and Baruch A. Levine, eds., Urbanization and Land Ownership in the Ancient Near East, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. McBrearty, Sally, and Alison S. Brooks (2000) ‘The Revolution That Wasn’t: A New Interpretation of the Origin of Modern Human Behavior’, Journal of Human Evolution 39 (5): 453–563. McKenzie, D. F. (1999) Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts, Cambridge University Press. Menninger, Karl (1969) Number Words and Number Symbols: A Cultural History of Numbers, MIT Press. Michalowski, Piotr (1993) ‘Tokenism’, American Anthropologist 95 (4): 996–999. Mullins, Daniel A., Harvey Whitehouse, and Quentin D. Atkinson (2013) ‘The Role of Writing and Recordkeeping in the Cultural Evolution of Human Cooperation’, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 90 (supplementary issue): 141–151. Nissen, Hans J., Peter Damerow, and Robert K. Englund (1993) Archaic Bookkeeping, University of Chicago Press. Nugent, Christopher M. B. (2018) ‘Structured Gaps: the Qianzi Wen and Its Paratexts as Mnemotechnics’, in Wendy Swartz and Robert Ford Campany, eds., Memory in Medieval China: Text, Ritual, and Community, Brill. Olivier, Laurent (2013) ‘Time’, in Paul Graves-Brown, Rodney Harrison, and Angela Piccini, eds., The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Contemporary World, Oxford University Press. Oppenheim, A. Leo (1959) ‘On an Operational Device in Mesopotamian Bureaucracy’, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 18 (2): 121–128. Overmann, Karenleigh A. (2019) ‘Materiality and the Prehistory of Number’, in Karenleigh A. Overmann and Frederick L. Coolidge, eds., Squeezing Minds from Stones: Cognitive Archaeology and the Evolution of the Human Mind, Oxford University Press. Pember, Margaret, and Roberta A. Cowan (2009) ‘Where Is the Record We Have Lost in Information?’, in Margaret Pember and Roberta A. Cowan, eds., iRMA Information and Records Management Annual 2009, Records Management Association of Australasia. Pryor, Francis (2003) Britain BC: Life in Britain and Ireland before the Romans, Harper Collins. Purves, Alex (2006) ‘The Plot Unravels: Darius’s Numbered Days in Scythia’, Helios 33 (1): 1–26. Reichel, Clemens (2013) ‘Bureaucratic Backlashes: Bureaucrats as Agents of Socioeconomic Change in Proto-Historic Mesopotamia’, in Joshua Englehardt, ed., Agency in Ancient Writing, University Press of Colorado. Reinink, G. J., and Herman L. J. Vanstiphout, eds. (1991) Dispute Poems and Dialogues in the Ancient and Mediaeval Near East, Peeters. Roberts, Mary Nooter, and Allen F. Roberts (1996) Memory: Luba Art and the Making of History, Museum for African Art. Robson, Eleanor (2007) ‘Literacy, Numeracy and the State in Early Mesopotamia’, in Kathryn Lomas, Ruth D. Whitehouse, and John B. Wilkins, eds., Literacy and the State in the Ancient Mediterranean, Accordia Research Institute.

26 How records began Rosaldo, Michelle Z. (1982) ‘The Things We Do with Words: Ilongot Speech Acts and Speech Act Theory in Philosophy’, Language in Society 11 (2): 203–237. Rothman, Mitchell S. (2016) ‘Storage as an Analytical Marker for Studying Cultural Evolution’, in Linda R. Manzanilla and Mitchell S. Rothman, eds., Storage in Ancient Complex Societies, Routledge. Sauvet, Georges, Robert Layton, Tilman Lenssen-Erz, Paul Taçon, and André Wlodarczyk (2009) ‘Thinking with Animals in Upper Palaeolithic Rock Art’, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 19 (3): 319–336. Schmandt-Besserat, Denise (1992) Before Writing, Volume I: From Counting to Cuneiform, University of Texas Press. Schmandt-Besserat, Denise (1995) ‘Record Keeping before Writing’, in Jack M. Sasson, ed., Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, vol. 4, Charles Scribner’s Sons. Schmandt-Besserat, Denise (2010) ‘The Token System of the Ancient Near East: Its Role in Counting, Writing, the Economy and Cognition’, in Iain Morley and Colin Renfrew, eds., The Archaeology of Measurement, Cambridge University Press. Schmandt-Besserat, Denise (2012) ‘Tokens in China, Europe and Africa’, Scripta 4: 1–11. Schmandt-Besserat, Denise (2019) ‘The Earliest Precursor of Writing’, in Paul Heyer and Peter Urquhart, eds., Communication in History: Stone Age Symbols to Social Media, 7th edn., Routledge. Schmandt-Besserat, Denise, and Niloufar Moghimi (2017) ‘Making Tokens Talk’, in Anna Margherita Jasink, Judith Weingarten, and Silvia Ferrara, eds., Non-Scribal Communication Media in the Bronze Age Aegean and Surrounding Areas, Firenze University Press. Schwartz, Candy, and Peter Hernon (1993) Records Management and the Library, Ablex. Skeates, Robin (2010) ‘The Art of Memory: Personal Ornaments in Copper Age South-East Italy’, in Katina T. Lillios and Vasileios Tsamis, eds., Material Mnemonics: Everyday Memory in Prehistoric Europe, Oxbow. Splitstoser, Jeffrey C. (2014) ‘Practice and Meaning in Spiral-Wrapped Batons and Cords from Cerrillos, a Late Paracas Site in the Ica Valley, Peru’, in Denise Y. Arnold, ed., Textiles, Technical Practice and Power in the Andes, Archetype. Steensberg, Axel (1989) Hard Grains, Irrigation, Numerals and Scripts in the Rise of Civilisations, Royal Danish Academy. Steinkeller, Piotr (2004) ‘The Function of Written Documentation in the Administrative Practice of Early Babylonia’, in Michael Hudson and Cornelia Wunsch, eds., Creating Economic Order: Record-Keeping, Standardization, and the Development of Accounting in the Ancient Near East, CDL. Stout, Dietrich (2011) ‘Stone Toolmaking and the Evolution of Human Culture and Cognition’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences 366 (1567): 1050–1059. Strong, Jeremy (2018) ‘Foraging’, in Joshua Zeunert and Tim Waterman, eds., Routledge Handbook of Landscape and Food, Routledge. Sundstrom, Linea (2012) ‘Rock Art in Situ: Context and Content’, in Jo McDonald and Peter Veth, eds., A Companion to Rock Art, Wiley-Blackwell. Taçon, Paul S. C., Muhammad Ramli, Budianto Hakim, Adam Brumm, and Maxime Aubert (2018) ‘The Contemporary Importance and Future of Sulawesi’s Ancient Rock Art’, in Sue O’Connor, David Bulbeck, and Juliet Meyer, eds., The Archaeology of Sulawesi, ANU Press.

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Topic, John R. (2016) ‘Storerooms, Tokens, and Administrative Devices: An Andean Case Study’, in Linda R. Manzanilla and Mitchell S. Rothman, eds., Storage in Ancient Complex Societies, Routledge. Urton, Gary (2009) ‘Sin, Confession, and the Arts of Book- and Cord-Keeping’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 51 (4): 801–831. White, Randall (1992) ‘Beyond Art: Toward an Understanding of the Origins of Material Representations in Europe’, Annual Review of Anthropology 21: 537–564. Whitley, David S. (2011) Introduction to Rock Art Research, 2nd edn., Left Coast. Whittle, Alasdair (2010) ‘The Diversity and Duration of Memory’, in Dušan Boric´, ed., Archaeology and Memory, Oxbow. Williams, Howard, ed. (2003) Archaeologies of Remembrance: Death and Memory in Past Societies, Kluwer. Zaslavsky, Claudia (1999) Africa Counts: Number and Pattern in African Cultures, 3rd edn., Lawrence Hill. Zimansky, Paul (1993) Review of Before Writing by Denise Schmandt-Besserat, Journal of Field Archaeology 20 (4): 513–517.

Chapter 2

Marks of ownership and sealing

In many parts of the world, further strands in the early development of recordmaking arose from the use (and, later, ownership) of goods, and from the growing practice of applying marks of identity to secure or seal goods in storage and to associate them with their owners or producers. Like the counting methods described in Chapter 1, these practices emerged slowly over long periods of time, and they took varying forms in varying local circumstances.

Communal sharing and private property The first goods used by our remote ancestors were unmarked stone tools. Initially, stones were probably used as they came to hand, but at an early stage in the development of the human species people learnt to seek out and set aside the most suitable stones for future use. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, they began to fashion sharp stones to make hand-axes. Early stone tools in nomadic societies are likely to have been shared communally, because frequent moves from place to place will have imposed limits on the number of tools that could be accumulated and transported. The advent of more sedentary lifestyles enabled and was enabled by a considerable increase in the range of available tools and utensils. In many parts of the world, 8000 years ago, people had substantial assemblages of pots, dishes, baskets, textiles, and other useful artefacts, as well as objects that were largely symbolic or ornamental. Some of these may have been shared across a community, but others may have been designated for use by particular households or individuals. Over an unknown time period, the notion will have arisen that such artefacts or objects belonged to the households or individuals in question; communal ownership started to weaken in the face of individual claims (‘this is my axe, or my basket, which I’ve kept so that I can use it again in the future’). When such claims were first made, notions of private property were, of course, unknown. Formal property rights of the kind recognized by later legal systems had not yet emerged; law was still inchoate, and ownership must have been a social and emotional rather than a legal phenomenon (Busse and

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Strang, 2011, 4). In some regions, concepts of private property remained unknown or of little significance until the arrival of European influence in recent times. However, the appropriation of objects by individuals could be, and doubtless was, maintained at a pragmatic level – by force if necessary – even in societies where conceptions of individual ownership were largely unformed (Searle, 1995, 81). In many societies, these developments were almost certainly associated with increasing social stratification and the emergence of chiefs or leaders who acquired exclusive use of the largest dwelling-places or the finest or most prestigious objects. Just as leadership status may have been assigned without the assigners being fully conscious of what they were doing – even though they may have lacked words such as ‘leader’ or ‘chief ’, people gradually accepted that certain individuals adjudicated, gave orders, or led others in battle (Searle, 2007, 91) – individual rights of ownership were probably also recognized gradually and unconsciously. People who had no vocabulary of proprietorship began to accept that the fine clothing that a leader had acquired, or the hut where he slept, were in some sense owned by him. They may also have come to acknowledge that others besides leaders owned property in the form of clothes, tools, or utensils. In some localities, a conception of property rights may have devolved from leaders to others within a community; elsewhere, it may have developed gradually from close – and perhaps deeply felt – associations between individuals and particular objects that they used frequently in their daily lives. These changes happened at different times (and to different extents) in different societies, but they must always have been disruptive of traditional worldviews, particularly when ideas about private ownership of movable objects and foodstuffs were extended to private ownership of dwelling-places and land. In societies where all land is shared, the cultural tradition almost always ensures that connections between the community and its land are deeply rooted and taken for granted; disputes about ‘rights’ to the land do not arise within the community, but occur only if changes are imposed by external invading forces. In situations of external conflict, the cultural tradition may be invoked to rally the community or to defend it against the claims of the invader. When external pressures are absent, the perception of timelessness and continuity in relations between community members and the objects in their environment remains undisturbed, and questions of ownership do not obtrude. However, with the advent of private property, everything changes. Emphasis shifts, from the continuing relationship between community and environment in a present that is undifferentiated from the past, to the ‘rights’ accruing to individuals within the community as it is currently constituted. When individual ownership is acknowledged, notions that the disposition of commodities is vested in ageless tradition become increasingly untenable; property becomes transferable, and the idea that the ordering of the present is

30 Marks of ownership and sealing

indistinguishable from the ordering of the past begins to disintegrate. Moreover, when cultural tradition is no longer the sole arbiter of human possessions, new means of asserting ownership have to be found, and property may need to be labelled to record entitlement: a development that can be traced in a number of early societies through examination of archaeological discoveries.

Marking goods The earliest possessors of movable objects made no use of marks of ownership. Initially, the absence of methods of recording claims to possession or ownership will have mattered little; in a closely-knit community, the owners or reputed owners of particular objects will have been known to all concerned. However, the emergence of persistent methods of marking gave rise to the possibility of inscribing an object with an enduring indication of its possessor’s identity. Many human societies adopted the practice of recording the ownership of inanimate objects by making marks on, or attaching marks to, the objects themselves, a practice that survives today in the use of bookplates and the like. In some societies, marks of ownership may also have been applied to livestock, but little or no evidence of such marks survives from early times. Marks on pottery, however, are more durable and have been found in numerous parts of the world, including China, Egypt, eastern Europe, and Pakistan. The earliest appear to be about 7000 years old (Boltz, 1986, 421, 430; MacArthur, 2015, 117; Parpola, 1986, 403–4; Winn, 1981). In many cases, marks on pottery jars or other containers consist only of lines or simple shapes such as crosses or triangles, but some marks are more complicated and, to a modern eye, may resemble hieroglyphic signs or other developed modes of writing. Some marks may be motifs used in ritual or mere casual scratchings, but scholars believe that many – perhaps most – were signifiers. Marks in the form of single or parallel lines are often thought to refer to the volume of a container or the number of items held within it. Scholars have also suggested that certain later marks may refer to the type of commodity held in the container, the quality of the container or its contents, its storage location, or its intended destination, but all these suggestions are open to dispute (Glatz, 2012, 6–8, 34; Tassie et al., 2008, 221; Van den Brink, 1992, 274–6). The first inscriptions on pottery or bronze objects that employ a written language we can decipher with confidence are commonly either the name of an individual or a statement connecting the object with an individual; examples include a bronze axe from Mesopotamia, inscribed with the name of ‘Šu-Turul the mighty King of Akkad’ (Parpola, 1994, 106–7), and a Maya cup – which we will meet again in Chapter 4 – inscribed ‘K’an, holy lady of Tikal, her drinking vessel …’ (Reents-Budet, 1994, 158). Many of the undecipherable predecessors of such inscriptions probably also served to associate the marked object with an owner. These marks should be perceived, not as renderings of personal names, but as symbols that identified people (or

Marks of ownership and sealing


perhaps families) in much the same way as the corporate logos that are used today to identify organizations. In small communities, even simple lines or crosses could presumably identify a household or an individual as the owner of a pot or other item of domestic equipment. Marks of this kind will have been of particular value if an item was lent to a neighbour or deposited in a communal storage area. More generally, the labelling of possessions is likely to have reflected – and reinforced – growing senses of personal identity and autonomy. Other decipherable inscriptions of later date allude to the individual who made or commissioned the inscribed object; the inscription on a 3000-yearold Chinese cooking vessel, for example, tells us that ‘Bo Ju made this precious vessel’ (Wen Fong, 1980, 212). Some of the simple marks made on earlier objects may likewise have referred to producers. The first pottery utensils were probably made by people for their own use, but with the growth of specialist craft manufacture came the possibility of marks that identified a producer separately from an owner. As long-distance trade developed, pottery containers may also have been marked to indicate the originators or recipients of their contents, or to document the roles of intermediaries such as merchants and carriers. These developments occurred at different times in different societies, but always had the consequence of enlarging the range of individuals who might have wanted to apply identifying marks to a particular object. In societies where shrines or temples received goods as offerings or exactions, or where they held property of their own, marks on pots or other objects might sometimes identify a temple, or a deity with whom a temple was associated, rather than a human individual. Marks made on a pot before it was fired must relate to its producer or to the production process. Pre-firing marks may have been employed in counting items of pottery during production or in identifying the products of different potters in a shared kiln; such marks probably carried little meaning to anyone other than the potters (Bréand, 2015, 210; Griffin, 1980, 66). When a simple personal identifying mark was applied to a pot after firing, it is almost always impossible for us to know whether it indicated the owner, the potter, or the person who provided or despatched its contents, but we can be confident that people within the community where the pot was used would generally have recognized the mark and perhaps understood it as a record of the making or despatch of the pot by a known individual. The practice of applying symbolic marks to objects had a long life. In many societies worldwide, long after the advent of literacy, people with limited writing and reading skills continued to employ marks to record ownership, production, or distribution, and symbolic or semi-symbolic schemes were used to enable them to mark items appropriately and interpret marks made by others (Evans Pim et al., 2010). In Egypt, manual workers used marks to identify themselves and to label their personal property, 2000 years after the appearance of the inscribed signs that scholars identify as the first

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Egyptian writing (Haring, 2018). During the Roman empire, amphorae (large pottery jars used for transporting products such as oil or wine) were sometimes marked with a variety of highly abbreviated labels and graffiti, apparently indicating the origins of the amphorae and their contents, names of inspectors, names of consignees, and perhaps other details. Each label occupied a particular position on the exterior of the amphora; although the labelling conventions are enigmatic to modern scholars, the position of a label evidently enabled those familiar with the system to recognize the kind of information it conveyed (Woolf, 2009, 57–9). Although earlier marking systems almost certainly lacked this degree of complexity, they rested on similar assumptions that the marks and symbols inscribed on objects would be comprehensible to those who encountered them.

Seals and seal impressions In the modern world, seals and sealing are almost always associated with the safeguarding of written documents. However, humans began to use seals long before writing was developed. Seals, or seal-like devices, seem to have originated in south-west Asia; over a period of several millennia, their use spread across a wide area extending from China and parts of India to Egypt and south-east Europe. Archaeological excavations in all these regions have discovered ancient artefacts that relate to sealing practices: these include objects used for making impressions (which archaeologists call ‘seals’), objects bearing impressions on their surface (which archaeologists usually call ‘sealings’), and objects – with or without seal impressions – used to close or fasten a container (also usually called ‘sealings’). Archaeological terminology differs from the terminology employed in studies of medieval and post-medieval sealing practices, but in the discussion that follows I have used the words ‘seal’ and ‘sealing’ in the ways that archaeologists commonly use them. A practice of incising patterns on stones is known to have existed in Syria more than 10,000 years ago, before pottery came into use there. About 8500 years ago, people in Syria began to use wood, bone, shell, and clay, as well as stone, to make objects bearing engraved geometric patterns (Akkermans and Schwartz, 2003, 139; Duistermaat, 2010, 164, 172–3). These objects are known to archaeologists as ‘stamps’; clay stamps have been found, not only in Syria, but in Israel, Turkey, northern Greece, the Balkans, Hungary, and Italy (Freikman and Garfinkel, 2017, 41–2; Skeates, 2007). According to museum curator Clemens Lichter (2011, 35), ‘clay stamps in Greece and south-eastern Europe are widely spread from the end of the seventh to the fourth millennium BC’. Their function is uncertain. Although their shape resembles that of later seals, no impressions made by these stamps survive; it seems almost certain that they were not used for the purposes we now associate with seals. If they were used for stamping, they must have been applied to perishable materials such as textiles or bread (Duistermaat, 2010, 174; Naumov, 2008,

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66–73; Skeates, 2007, 186). It is perhaps more likely that they were used as personal ornaments or as amulets or talismans to ward off evil, disease, or other misfortune. Even in later periods, when people in south-west Asia employed stamps for purposes of sealing and administration, they also continued to use them as decoration and as amulets (Duistermaat, 2012, 10–13). The use of seal-like objects in south-west Asia seems to have been individualized from an early date. Some commentators have observed that the range of patterns and motifs was limited, and have suggested that such objects were ‘family or tribal markers’ (Reichel, 2013, 67) and that members of kinship groups may have used the same or similar motifs. Others, however, have argued that even minor pattern variations might have been sufficient to distinguish individuals, especially in small communities (Nissen, 1977, 19; Reichel, 2013, 51). Some seals and seal-like objects are pierced, which suggests that they may have been personal adornments for an individual, suspended on a string and worn at the wrist or as a pendant around the neck (Reichel, 2013, 51; Skeates, 2007, 186, 195); if such objects had quasi-magical properties, wearing them perhaps offered special protection to the wearer. Others seem to have been worn on pins used to secure items of clothing (Collon, 2005, 110). Many have been found in graves, a circumstance that has also been taken to indicate that they were personal items, buried with their owners (Duistermaat, 2012, 10; Skeates, 2007, 195).1 In ways that we cannot now hope to define, they probably helped constitute a sense of self-identity for individuals or families, and perhaps also a recognition of that identity by others. Within a few centuries of the first appearance in south-west Asia of pottery vessels for cooking and storage, about 9000 years ago, people began to secure storage containers with closures made of malleable materials that hardened rapidly. According to archaeologist Kim Duistermaat (2010, 175), ‘pottery vessels and baskets were closed with lens-shaped gypsum slabs or conical clay stoppers that were fixed to the opening’ and had to be broken to gain access to the contents. At first, however, these did not bear seal impressions. They were probably used to prevent or discourage the untimely opening of goods intended for long-term storage. The earliest known examples of the use of stamps to make impressions on durable items are from Syria. At Tell Bouqras and Tell el-Kowm in northern Syria, impressions were made on flat slabs of gypsum plaster, which may have served as lids for containers (Duistermaat, 2010, 175). Impressions on clay have been found at Tell el-Kerkh, also in Syria; the pieces of clay bear traces of string, from which it has been inferred that they were used to secure containers by sealing their closures (Tsuneki et al., 2017, 6). The best-documented finds of early clay sealings carrying one or more seal impressions are from another Syrian site, Tell Sabi Abyad, described as ‘a late Neolithic village on the Balikh river in north-central Syria which was destroyed by fire around 6000 BC’ (Robson, 2007, 41). According to archaeologists who investigated the site (Akkermans and Duistermaat, 2014, 113), ‘excavations at

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Tell Sabi Abyad in the 1990s yielded hundreds of clay sealings, … dating from … about 6200–5850 BC’, a little later than those from Tell el-Kerkh. Most of the sealings discovered at Tell Sabi Abyad bore seal impressions; all seem to have been used to seal transportable containers, mainly baskets and items of pottery, but also stone bowls and leather bags (Akkermans and Duistermaat, 1997, 19–21; Duistermaat, 2010, 176). The containers are usually thought to have been employed for storing grain. These first uses of seals to mark objects are generally interpreted to mean that seals could be employed or examined to distinguish one person or family from another. Seals used in this way are indicative of a decline in the communal sharing of property and a growing understanding that goods were the responsibility of, or belonged to, particular families. Archaeologist Holly Pittman has postulated that: during the … Ubaid period [c.6000–c.4000 BC], the household replaced the community as the primary economic unit …. This reorganization led to the unequal distribution of resources, with some families having greater access to wealth and resources than others …. Seals were used within each household economic unit to control … storage, … probably within the extended family. (Pittman, 2018, 15) The sealing of receptacles became a widespread practice; it demonstrates that people had goods they wanted to protect.2 Some had more goods than others, but sealing was not confined to a few privileged families or individuals. Large numbers of different seal impressions were found at Tell Sabi Abyad, and researchers have concluded that numerous people were using seals (Duistermaat, 1996, 364; Frangipane, 2016, 11–13). At some of the sites that archaeologists have explored, there seem to have been collective storehouses in which families kept their grain or other products (Akkermans and Duistermaat, 1997, 26; Reichel, 2013, 52). Presumably, seal impressions allowed owners to recognize their property among the many containers in the storehouse. Like a pottery mark, a seal impression was not a rendering of a personal or family name; in this context, it was a symbol that indicated ownership of individual or family goods. When a seal impression on the clay sealing of a container allowed other members of the community to identify the person who had applied it, it became possible for people in a dispute to prove that specific goods were their property (Akkermans and Duistermaat, 1997, 42; Rothman and Fiandra, 2016, 44–5). The clay sealings were placed across the interfaces between the containers and their lids. Containers were sometimes closed with a string; a knot in the string was embedded in wet clay, which was then impressed with a seal (Duistermaat, 1996, 344–6; Reichel, 2013, 50). Many sealings bear several impressions made by the same seal. When the clay had dried, the containers could not be opened without breaking the sealings; thus the sealings ensured

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that any unauthorized opening was detectable. A sealing of this kind served a dual purpose. It marked a container as the property of an individual or a household, and it protected the container from the possibility of unnoticed opening. As Duistermaat (2010, 177) noted, this ‘system of control … built on already existing technologies of stamps used for other purposes’. Seals almost certainly retained a talismanic value, and their use perhaps conferred magical as much as physical protection on the sealed goods. A clay sealing could make interference with the goods detectable but could not physically prevent it; however, an attempt at interfering might perhaps evoke the magical powers of the seal or of the act of sealing. If this was so, a seal impression may have borne witness not merely to the application of a seal but also to the act of magically transferring its powers to the clay sealing, an act that was perhaps thought to endow the clay with supernatural protective capabilities. Arguably, the magic of a seal could protect possessions as well as people (Duistermaat, 2012, 12–13; cf. Relaki, 2009, 367–8). With the passage of time, there seems to have been a further increase in the use of clay sealings by people in south-west Asia. Two millennia after the container sealings of Tell Sabi Abyad, seals also began to be used to secure storage areas in which containers were held; seal impressions were applied to lumps of clay placed over the cords or wooden pegs used to close chests and storeroom doors. Sealings of this kind have been found at a number of sites in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey (Krzyszkowska, 2005, 27; Reichel, 2013, 57). Scholars have argued that this development signals not only new levels of socioeconomic complexity but also the emergence of new seal users in the form of a bureaucratic apparatus (Reichel, 2013, 53). In communities where the sharing of goods had largely been abandoned and where people were able – or obliged – to compete for possession of resources, those individuals and families who succeeded in maximizing their ownership of goods and commodities were able to use their wealth to acquire power and influence; this process eventually led to the emergence of ruling elites who could exercise control over the availability of goods and channel their distribution to others. As societies became increasingly stratified, control of certain food supplies for non-elite workers appears to have passed into the hands of a ruling class. The deployment of seals was adjusted accordingly; door sealings were introduced, and sealings on containers were applied by central authorities rather than individuals or families. In the palace complex at Arslantepe in eastern Turkey, described by archaeologist Marcella Frangipane as ‘an important protourban centre from the end of the fourth millennium BC’, door-locks as well as doorpegs, baskets, sacks, and pots were sealed (Ferioli et al., 2007, 64–5, 72–105; Frangipane, 1994, 15). Frangipane and her colleague Enrica Fiandra have argued that Arslantepe had a centralized administrative system in which palace officials managed the storage of goods and regulated withdrawals, and that the sealed rooms and containers are likely to have held food that officials

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distributed as rations to manual workers (Frangipane and Fiandra, 2007, 415, 446–7, 465–7; Rothman and Fiandra, 2016, 54–5). Seals in the form of stamps continued to be made throughout south-west Asia during the fourth millennium, and their designs gradually became more elaborate (Collon, 1997, 11–12). Seals of a new kind also came into use at this period. Known to archaeologists as ‘cylinder seals’, their impressions have been found in large numbers in southern Mesopotamia. In contrast to the stamping action required to make an impression using the earlier seals, the new seals were rolled over the clay surface. Because the impressions made by cylinder seals were larger than those made by stamp seals, it became possible to use more varied motifs to identify the seals’ owners or users. Cylinder seals were invented in a period of social change, when more precise identification of individuals enabled and was required by a growing complexity of bureaucracy (Reichel, 2013, 54). At sites such as Arslantepe where cylinder seals were coming into use alongside the older stamp seals, and elsewhere in the Mesopotamian region at later dates, seals functioned as effective components of bureaucratic procedures at local level. In Pittman’s words: seal imagery was meant to be understood within particular administrative contexts. It was not meant to flag identity to … external groups, but … was internal to the particular administrative process … within a closed system of accounting and distribution. (Pittman, 2018, 19) A seal impression served to record the identity of the official who had ordered, performed, or witnessed an activity or transaction within the palace administration. Analysis of the Arslantepe sealings has suggested that administrators who worked in different sectors of the palace had differently styled seals (Frangipane and Pittman, 2007, 283) and that seals were also used to distinguish administrators with different rights of access to the palace’s storage areas (Frangipane, 2007a, 470–3). Seals also operated as symbols of status, and an elaborate seal was an indicator of high rank (Duistermaat, 2012, 10; Frangipane and Pittman, 2007, 338).

Why might sealings have been preserved? In a study of record-keeping, the afterlife of the clay sealings also merits examination. At a number of sites it is apparent that, when a sealed door or container was opened, its sealing was not immediately discarded. At Tell Sabi Abyad, the excavators reported that, after sealings had been detached from containers, people had taken steps to retain them for a further period of time; the sealings discovered at this site were ‘deliberately taken out of circulation’ and removed to a dedicated storage area, albeit perhaps only for temporary preservation (Akkermans and Duistermaat, 1997, 26). The retention of the

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sealings was thought to indicate that they ‘were part of a widely accepted, standardised system of administration … involving well-developed concepts of ownership and the presence of means to control it’ (Duistermaat, 1996, 374). These findings have subsequently been called into question (BennisonChapman, 2019, 247), but at Arslantepe there appears to be stronger evidence that measures had been taken to retain older sealings. According to Frangipane (1994, 126; 2007b, 29–30), sealings were found at Arslantepe in such large numbers that it seems impossible that they could all have been in simultaneous use on doors or containers. The concentration of the finds in large groups suggested that, after their removal from the containers or doors to which they had been applied, the sealings had been set aside in particular storage locations. Frangipane and Fiandra also put forward a more controversial proposal; they argued that the reason for retaining the sealings was to allow completed transactions to be verified at the end of an administrative cycle. The sealings at Arslantepe, they claimed, ‘were probably kept temporarily, waiting for the end of a given period for checking and accounting purposes’ (Frangipane and Fiandra, 2007, 424); sealings were ‘kept as proof that the operations had been completed, … [and] this auditing operation took place in the storerooms’ (Rothman and Fiandra, 2016, 54). Suggestions that ‘auditing operations’ might have been performed at this early date need to be viewed with caution. Writing in conjunction with Piera Ferioli, Fiandra affirmed that a detached clay sealing ‘becomes a document of proof; … it bears witness that a change in the quantity took place after an operation that was correct in the procedure’ (Ferioli and Fiandra, 1983, 460). Prima facie, however, it demonstrates only that a particular sealing was first attached to and then removed from a door or a container; a detached sealing reveals nothing about changes to quantities or about a supposed correctness of procedure. Any accounting or auditing that was conducted using sealings alone must have taken a very rudimentary form. A collection of preserved sealings could allow people to identify the individuals whose seals had been used and to verify how many sealed containers had been opened, but it supplies no representation of the volume of goods taken from each container or the recipients of those goods. It offers no intrinsic means of distinguishing outgoing from incoming goods or of determining when or in what sequence transactions occurred. We do not know whether any information of this kind might have been indicated using other methods: for example, by means of the physical arrangement of preserved sealings. It is possible that sealings removed from containers on different occasions might have been stored in different locations whose significance was understood by those who made use of them. But there could only have been limited scope for methods of this kind. Building on their belief that clay sealings were formally preserved for auditing purposes, Ferioli and Fiandra (1983, 455–6, 463) affirmed that they had identified sealing ‘archives’ of various dates at a range of sites in Crete,

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Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and northern Sudan, as well as in Syria and Turkey. They claimed that the sealings had a recognized ‘juridical-administrative value’ across this region (Ferioli and Fiandra, 1996, 87) and that there were precise rules for their management, which followed a four-stage process (Ferioli and Fiandra, 1994, 149–50, 170): an initial stage when sealings were used to secure goods in a warehouse; a second stage when they were detached from the goods but retained in or near the warehouses where the goods were kept; a third stage when they were transferred to a storage room reserved for older sealings; and a final stage of carefully managed destruction. Ferioli and Fiandra (1983, 463; 1994, 150) also claimed that they could identify what they called ‘archivist habits in the administration of the fourth millennium BC’, that sealings were systematically and formally conserved to allow consultation, and that they were arranged in files and series ‘for the purposes of controlling and auditing various types of partial and final accounts’. When they were first promulgated, these ideas were enthusiastically received by archivists at a colloquium with specialists in the archaeology of ancient societies. Italian archivist Donato Tamblé, for example, welcomed the acknowledgement that the ‘idea of archive’, archival principles, and the ‘archival system … as a complex of … documentary components’ all existed ‘before writing’ (Tamblé, 1994, 409). Other scholars, however, have argued that the conclusions reached by Ferioli and Fiandra cannot be accepted uncritically. The archaeological evidence is ambiguous, and the interpretation of it by Ferioli and Fiandra rests on unproven assumptions that formal accounting and record-keeping systems were developed at an early date and that these systems can be reconstructed by studying practices used in later ages after the invention of writing. In the opinion of archaeologist Jan Driessen, although retained sealings may have provided ‘a basic record of the operations executed during a certain time period’ (Driessen, 1994–5, 249), it is anachronistic to assume that complex accounting and auditing procedures took place or would even have been possible in an era without numerals or script. Notions that a system of records retention was applied across a wide region, and that sealings were formally organized in files and series, also seem anachronistic and over-dependent on modern conceptions of record-keeping and archival arrangement.3 Ferioli and Fiandra later admitted that ‘reconstruction of the sealed objects … and the administration procedures that they reflect often requires a great deal of imagination’ (Ferioli et al., 2007, 64). An alternative interpretation has been suggested in the context of the sealings from Tell Sabi Abyad, where human and animal figurines were found in the same rooms as the sealings. According to Duistermaat (1996, 370; 2012, 10), the presence of these figurines may suggest that the sealings had been kept for symbolic reasons relating to ritual or spiritual domains. Wherever sealings were preserved, if they had quasi-magical properties their retention may have had as much to do with the world of magic as with accounting

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requirements. Certainty on issues of this kind remains beyond our reach; our understanding of the reasons for preserving sealings is as imperfect and incomplete as our knowledge of the people who seemingly chose to preserve them. Labelling preserved sealings as formal ‘archives’ must also remain a matter of contention. But scholarly consensus on the sealings allows us to be confident that, while they were in place on containers or doors, each sealing combined several functions; it recorded the identity of the person who had applied it – and served to indicate that person’s family connections or administrative role – as well as offering magical or physical protection against interference with stored goods.

Notes 1 Individual seal ownership is known to have been commonplace in south-west Asia at a much later date, when seals began to acquire written inscriptions. ‘The first seals inscribed with personal names’ appeared ‘during the second quarter of the third millennium BC’ (Collon, 1997, 12). Thereafter, even manual workers and slaves are attested as owning seals (Steinkeller, 1977, 48). 2 See Duistermaat (2010); Freikman and Garfinkel (2017). There was no parallel development in the Balkans; the early stamps there had no known successors. 3 For the suppositions that a ‘complete and practical … accounting-archiving system’ existed in the pre-writing era and remained essentially unchanged in the age of writing, see Ferioli and Fiandra (1994, 158, 171; 1996, 87). For rebuttals of these assumptions, see Driessen (1994–5); Oates (1996). Ferioli and Fiandra (1990, 221) noted that their ‘conclusions relative to archives were reached after … discussion with Prof. Gian Giacomo Fissore’, an Italian archivist and diplomatist. Fissore co-edited the colloquium proceedings, in a book entitled Archives before Writing (Ferioli et al., 1994), and later publicized Ferioli and Fiandra’s speculations to the archival community (Fissore, 1996).

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40 Marks of ownership and sealing Collon, Dominique (1997) ‘Ancient Near Eastern Seals’, in Dominique Collon, ed., 7000 Years of Seals, British Museum. Collon, Dominique (2005) First Impressions: Cylinder Seals in the Ancient Near East, 2nd edn., British Museum. Driessen, Jan (1994–5) ‘Data Storage for Reference and Prediction at the Dawn of Civilization?’, Minos 29–30: 239–256. Duistermaat, Kim (1996) ‘The Seals and Sealings’, in Peter M. M. G. Akkermans, ed., Tell Sabi Abyad: The Late Neolithic Settlement, vol. 2, Nederlands HistorischArchaeologisch Instituut. Duistermaat, Kim (2010) ‘Administration in Neolithic Societies? The First Use of Seals in Syria and Some Considerations on Seal Owners, Seal Use and Private Property’, in Walter Müller, ed., Die Bedeutung der Minoischen und Mykenischen Glyptik, Philipp von Zabern. Duistermaat, Kim (2012) ‘Which Came First, the Bureaucrat or the Seal? Some Thoughts on the Non-Administrative Origins of Seals in Neolithic Syria’, in Ilona Regulski, Kim Duistermaat, and Peter Verkinderen, eds., Seals and Sealing Practices in the Near East, Peeters. Evans Pim, Joám, Sergey A. Yatsenko, and Oliver T. Perrin, eds. (2010) Traditional Marking Systems: A Preliminary Survey, Dunkling. Ferioli, Piera, and Enrica Fiandra (1983) ‘Clay Sealings from Arslantepe VI.A: Administration and Bureaucracy’, Origini 12 (2): 455–509. Ferioli, Piera, and Enrica Fiandra (1990) ‘The Use of Clay Sealings in Administrative Functions from the Fifth to First Millennium B.C. in the Orient, Nubia, Egypt, and the Aegean’, in Thomas G. Palaima, ed., Aegean Seals, Sealings and Administration, Université de Liège. Ferioli, Piera, and Enrica Fiandra (1994) ‘Archive Techniques and Methods at Arslantepe’, in Piera Ferioli, Enrica Fiandra, Gian Giacomo Fissore, and Marcella Frangipane, eds., Archives before Writing: Proceedings of the International Colloquium, Oriolo Romano, 23–25 October 1991, Centro Internazionale di Ricerche Archeologiche Antropologiche e Storiche. Ferioli, Piera, and Enrica Fiandra (1996) ‘The Continuance of More Ancient Bureaucratic-Administrative Criteria in the Age of Writing’, in Piera Ferioli, Enrica Fiandra, and Gian Giacomo Fissore, eds., Administration in Ancient Societies, Centro Internazionale di Ricerche Archeologiche Antropologiche e Storiche. Ferioli, Piera, Enrica Fiandra, Gian Giacomo Fissore, and Marcella Frangipane, eds. (1994) Archives before Writing: Proceedings of the International Colloquium, Oriolo Romano, 23–25 October 1991, Centro Internazionale di Ricerche Archeologiche Antropologiche e Storiche. Ferioli, Piera, Enrica Fiandra, Marcella Frangipane, Romina Laurito, Maria Bianca D’Anna, and C. Simonetti (2007) ‘The Arslantepe Period VIa Cretulae and Other Administrative Devices: Material and Functional Characteristics’, in Marcella Frangipane, ed., Arslantepe Cretulae, Università di Roma. Fissore, Gian Giacomo (1996) ‘L’usage des sceaux dans l’administration des sociétés anciennes’, Janus 1996 (2): 37–41. Frangipane, Marcella (1994) ‘The Record Function of Clay Sealings in Early Administrative Systems as Seen from Arslantepe-Malatya’, in Piera Ferioli, Enrica Fiandra, Gian Giacomo Fissore, and Marcella Frangipane, eds., Archives before Writing: Proceedings of the International Colloquium, Oriolo Romano, 23–25

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October 1991, Centro Internazionale di Ricerche Archeologiche Antropologiche e Storiche. Frangipane, Marcella (2007a), ‘The Development of an Early State System without Urbanisation’, in Marcella Frangipane, ed., Arslantepe Cretulae, Università di Roma. Frangipane, Marcella (2007b), ‘Thousands of Cretulae in the Fourth Millennium Palatial Complex at Arslantepe (Period VI A, LC5): The Archaeological Contexts’, in Marcella Frangipane, ed., Arslantepe Cretulae, Università di Roma. Frangipane, Marcella (2016) ‘The Origins of Administrative Practices and Their Developments in Greater Mesopotamia: The Evidence from Arslantepe’, Archéo-Nil 26: 9–32. Frangipane, Marcella, and Enrica Fiandra (2007) ‘Arslantepe: A Complex Administrative System before Writing’, in Marcella Frangipane, ed., Arslantepe Cretulae, Università di Roma. Frangipane, Marcella, and Holly Pittman (2007) ‘The Fourth Millennium Glyptics at Arslantepe’, in Marcella Frangipane, ed., Arslantepe Cretulae, Università di Roma. Freikman, Michael, and Yosef Garfinkel (2017) ‘Sealings before Cities: New Evidence on the Beginnings of Administration in the Ancient Near East’, Levant 49 (1): 24–45. Glatz, Claudia (2012) ‘Bearing the Marks of Control? Reassessing Pot Marks in Late Bronze Age Anatolia’, American Journal of Archaeology 116 (1): 5–38. Griffin, Elizabeth E. (1980) ‘The Middle and Late Bronze Age Pottery’, in Maurits N. van Loon, ed., Korucutepe: Final Report on the Excavations of the Universities of Chicago, California (Los Angeles) and Amsterdam in the Keban Reservoir, Eastern Anatolia, vol. 3, North-Holland. Haring, Ben (2018) From Single Sign to Pseudo-Script: An Ancient Egyptian System of Workmen’s Identity Marks, Brill. Krzyszkowska, Olga (2005) Aegean Seals: An Introduction, University of London Institute of Classical Studies. Lichter, Clemens (2011) ‘Neolithic Stamps and the Neolithization Process: A Fresh Look at an Old Issue’, in Raiko Krauß, ed., Beginnings: New Research in the Appearance of the Neolithic between Northwest Anatolia and the Carpathian Basin, Marie Leidorf. MacArthur, Elise V. (2015) ‘The Conception and Development of the Egyptian Writing System’, in Christopher Woods, Emily Teeter, and Geoff Emberling, eds., Visible Language: Inventions of Writing in the Ancient Middle East and Beyond, 2nd edn., Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Naumov, Goce (2008) ‘Neolithic Stamps from the Southern Part of the Balkan Peninsula’, in Dragos¸ Gheorghiu and Robin Skeates, eds., Prehistoric Stamps: Theory and Experiments, Editura Universita˘ t¸ii din Bucures¸ti. Nissen, Hans J. (1977) ‘Aspects of the Development of Early Cylinder Seals’, in McGuire Gibson and Robert D. Biggs, eds., Seals and Sealing in the Ancient Near East, Undena. Oates, Joan (1996) ‘A Prehistoric Communication Revolution’, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 6 (1): 165–176. Parpola, Asko (1986) ‘The Indus Script: A Challenging Puzzle’, World Archaeology 17 (3): 399–419. Parpola, Asko (1994) Deciphering the Indus Script, Cambridge University Press.

42 Marks of ownership and sealing Pittman, Holly (2018) ‘Administrative Role of Seal Imagery in the Early Bronze Age: Mesopotamian and Iranian Traders on the Plateau’, in Marta Ameri, Sarah Kielt Costello, Gregg Jamison, and Sarah Jarmer Scott, eds., Seals and Sealing in the Ancient World, Cambridge University Press. Reents-Budet, Dorie (1994) Painting the Maya Universe: Royal Ceramics of the Classic Period, Duke University Press. Reichel, Clemens (2013) ‘Bureaucratic Backlashes: Bureaucrats as Agents of Socioeconomic Change in Proto-Historic Mesopotamia’, in Joshua Englehardt, ed., Agency in Ancient Writing, University Press of Colorado. Relaki, Maria (2009) ‘Rethinking Administration and Seal Use in Third Millennium Crete’, Creta Antica 10 (2): 353–372. Robson, Eleanor (2007) ‘Literacy, Numeracy and the State in Early Mesopotamia’, in Kathryn Lomas, Ruth D. Whitehouse, and John B. Wilkins, eds., Literacy and the State in the Ancient Mediterranean, Accordia Research Institute. Rothman, Mitchell S., and Enrica Fiandra (2016) ‘Verifying the Role of Storage: Examples from Prehistoric Ancient Mesopotamia’, in Linda R. Manzanilla and Mitchell S. Rothman, eds., Storage in Ancient Complex Societies, Routledge. Searle, John R. (1995) The Construction of Social Reality, Free Press. Searle, John R. (2007) Freedom and Neurobiology, Columbia University Press. Skeates, Robin (2007) ‘Neolithic Stamps: Cultural Patterns, Processes and Potencies’, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 17 (2): 183–198. Steinkeller, Piotr (1977) ‘Seal Practice in the Ur III Period’, in McGuire Gibson and Robert D. Biggs, eds., Seals and Sealing in the Ancient Near East, Undena. Tamblé, Donato (1994) ‘Perspectives for the History of Archives before Writing’, in Piera Ferioli, Enrica Fiandra, Gian Giacomo Fissore, and Marcella Frangipane, eds., Archives before Writing: Proceedings of the International Colloquium, Oriolo Romano, 23–25 October 1991, Centro Internazionale di Ricerche Archeologiche Antropologiche e Storiche. Tassie, Geoffrey J., Fekri A. Hassan, Joris van Wetering, and Bram Calcoen (2008) ‘Corpus of Potmarks from the Protodynastic to Early Dynastic Cemetery at Kafr Hassan Dawood’, in B. Midant-Reynes and Y. Tristant, eds., Egypt at Its Origins 2, Peeters. Tsuneki, Akira, Shigeo Yamada, and Ken-ichiro Hisada, eds. (2017) Ancient West Asian Civilization: Geoenvironment and Society in the Pre-Islamic Middle East, Springer. Van den Brink, Edwin C. M. (1992) ‘Corpus and Numerical Evaluation of “Thinite” Potmarks’, in Renée Friedman and Barbara Adams, eds., The Followers of Horus: Studies Dedicated to Michael Allen Hoffman, Oxbow. Wen Fong, ed. (1980) The Great Bronze Age of China, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Winn, Shan M. M. (1981) Pre-Writing in Southeastern Europe: The Sign System of the Vincˇ a Culture, Western. Woolf, Greg (2009) ‘Literacy or Literacies in Rome?’, in William A. Johnson and Holt N. Parker, eds., Ancient Literacies: The Culture of Reading in Greece and Rome, Oxford University Press.

Chapter 3

Records, accounting, and the emergence of writing in ancient Mesopotamia

The clay ‘tokens’ described in Chapter 1 appear to have remained in use in southwest Asia for several thousand years. According to Denise Schmandt-Besserat (1992, 48), ‘the use of tokens in northern Mesopotamia is continuous from the late eighth to … the late fourth millennium BC’. In other parts of the region, perhaps as early as 8000 years ago, they may have been used alongside seals or other recording mechanisms. In archaeological excavations, clay sealings have been found in association with tokens – or objects believed to be tokens – at a number of sites, including Tell Sabi Abyad in Syria (Bennison-Chapman, 2019, 328, 331), Sha‘ar Hagolan in Israel (Freikman and Garfinkel, 2017, 30), and Arslantepe in Turkey (Ferioli et al., 2007, 143). It is possible, but by no means certain, that tokens and sealings were used together in systems for recording the movement of goods at some or all of these sites. Sealings may, for example, have been applied to pots or baskets used to store sets of tokens representing particular transactions (Schmandt-Besserat, 1994, 21; cf. Akkermans and Duistermaat, 1997, 29), but this cannot be proved. It is certain, however, that the use of these devices eventually came together in many parts of south-west Asia, where there is ‘ample evidence for the interaction of tokens and seals in the fourth millennium BC’ (Schmandt-Besserat, 1994, 22), following the invention of clay envelopes. As we saw in Chapter 1, these envelopes were used to protect sets of tokens from interference or disturbance. Most of the envelopes in which tokens were secured bear seal impressions on their exterior surface. Besides serving as additional safeguards against the possibility of tampering with the record, the seal impressions also identified one or more of the parties connected with the transaction. We do not know whether the seals applied to the clay envelopes were those of administrators, individuals interacting with an administration, or individuals acting independently, but scholars have often thought that the sealings were probably made by administrators; some envelopes bear impressions of two or more different seals, which may have been those of officials at different levels of an administrative hierarchy (Reichel, 2013, 61; Schmandt-Besserat, 1994, 20–2). Following this merger of counting and sealing techniques, it became possible to construct records that combined representations of quantities of goods with indications of the persons responsible

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for quantifying them (Nissen et al., 1993, 17; Schmandt-Besserat, 2018, 375). Tokens stood for the goods in a transaction; seal impressions served to represent human participants. In comparison with earlier forms of records, the sealed clay envelopes offered greater representational capacity as well as higher levels of security, but these advantages incurred a trade-off in terms of restricted accessibility. When tokens were enclosed within a clay envelope, they could not easily be tampered with, but they were no longer visible; the number and shape of the concealed tokens could not be verified without breaking open the envelope. To resolve this difficulty, some record-makers began impressing the shape of each token on the exterior of the envelope before the tokens were enclosed. Following this development, the outsides of these envelopes bore both seal impressions and token impressions. The token impressions corresponded exactly to the number and shape of the tokens inside the envelope, thus allowing users of the record to discern its contents while leaving the envelope intact (Coulmas, 1989, 24; Englund, 1998, 50; SchmandtBesserat, 2018, 376). Although only a few examples of envelopes with token impressions have been discovered, they have been found as far apart as Habuba Kabira in northern Syria and Tepe Yahya in south-east Iran. In Schmandt-Besserat’s words: envelopes, such as that [discovered at] Habuba Kabira, showing on the outside the impressions of the seven ovoid tokens … which were found still inside when it was excavated, are precious in providing evidence that … tokens were still handled in one-to-one correspondence in 3300 BC. The seven ovoid markings pressed on the outside of the envelope shared … the same value as … the seven ovoid tokens inside. (Schmandt-Besserat, 2010, 29)

The first clay tablets and the invention of proto-cuneiform In their developed form, the clay envelopes offered what might be called a chain of representations (Yeo, 2007, 341): the tokens inside an envelope represented items of goods, and the impressions on the outside represented the tokens. But Mesopotamian record-makers soon decided that the presence of the impressions on the outside rendered the tokens inside the envelopes unnecessary. Instead of using hollow envelopes that could be filled with tokens, they began to make impressions on solid clay tablets. Many of the signs impressed on the solid tablets were very similar to those on the envelopes, and scholars have interpreted them as perpetuating the shape of the tokens. It is likely that tokens continued to be used for counting, and that at least some of the impressions on the tablets were made by pressing a token against the tablet’s surface, but the deployment of these new tablets

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(known to scholars as ‘impressed’ or ‘numerical’ tablets) marked the start of a separation of record-keeping from counting tools. Tablets of this kind have been found at various sites in Iran, Iraq, and Syria; about 250 are known to survive (Englund, 1998, 50; Schmandt-Besserat, 2010, 30). They belong to ‘a phase immediately after, or overlapping with, that of the clay envelopes’ (Englund, 2006, 23). The clay tablet, which came into existence in this way, had a long future ahead of it as the chief medium of record-making in Mesopotamia. The durability of clay ensured the persistence of records; indeed, it has allowed large numbers of records from later periods of Mesopotamian history to survive to the present day. Instead of locking the components of the record inside a sealed envelope, creators and users of the first tablets relied on the hardening of the clay to secure the record’s integrity. Impressions could be made on a tablet while it remained moist, but clay dries very rapidly in the hot Mesopotamian climate; once a tablet had dried, the impressions on its surface could not be altered without leaving a trace of the disturbance. Scholars agree that each ‘impressed’ tablet represented a discrete transaction involving goods or animals and that, in general, the number of impressions made on a tablet corresponded to the quantity of goods or the number of animals concerned. Some of the marks on the tablets can be traced to token antecedents, but others were new. Some were made by impressing tokens in the clay, but others were made using a human fingertip or (later) a round stylus shaped from a reed or a piece of wood (Englund, 2006, 23). Like the clay envelopes from which they developed, these tablets usually also bore seal impressions. Noting that envelopes and tablets were sometimes impressed by the same seal, archaeologists have concluded that both types of record were used by the same officials (Englund, 1998, 56; Schmandt-Besserat, 1992, 154). These innovations made it possible for a single record to identify both the quantities of goods and the persons involved in a transaction, but there were still limits to records’ representational capacities: there was no way of representing the nature of transactions, their dates or contexts, or the roles played by the different parties. The general principles of record-keeping using clay artefacts seem to have been understood across the region, but the particular significance of each record could be ascertained only by someone who remembered, or could call on other means of identifying, the transaction that it represented. The number of records whose transactional context had to be remembered at any one time was probably not large. Nevertheless, effective use of any set of records must have been limited to a small group of knowledgeable people, or the records must have been housed in such a way that the storage locations indicated the nature of the transactions, or both. Today, although we can still handle some of these records, we have no way of discerning the transactions they represented. We can inspect their seal impressions,

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but we cannot uncover the identities of the individuals who applied the seals. The representational systems were unable to convey meaning beyond the intimate settings in which the records were created and first used. Further developments, however, continued to emerge at a rapid pace. After a short period of impressing tokens and other marks, this technique was superseded by a new method of inscribing signs or characters on a tablet using a stylus. Each sign stood for an object – or a category of objects – in the external world. Often acclaimed as ‘the first writing’, many of these signs were in pictographic form; the sign for a cow was a rudimentary depiction of a cow’s head, and the sign for barley resembled an ear of grain. But the new signs were not all pictographic; some were undoubtedly abstract. Although essays on the history of writing sometimes refer to the signs as ‘pictographs’, most scholars now prefer to describe them as ‘proto-cuneiform’, with reference to their later development into cuneiform script.1 Derived from the Latin word cuneus (meaning ‘a wedge’), the word ‘cuneiform’ was invented three centuries ago to denote the wedge-like appearance of later Mesopotamian writing. The signs that scholars call ‘proto-cuneiform’ did not have this wedge-like appearance, because they were initially inscribed using a different kind of stylus. The creators of the first proto-cuneiform signs used styli with pointed tips; styli with triangular tips, which eventually gave Mesopotamian writing its distinctive cuneiform appearance, came a little later. The precise dates of these changes remain a matter of controversy. According to Sumerologist Robert Englund (1996, 9), ‘there is no clear absolute chronology of the first use and development of proto-cuneiform; very rough estimates are set at 3200–3100 BC for the earliest phase … and 3100–3000 for the following phase’. Proto-cuneiform, as mathematician and Sumerologist Peter Damerow (2012, 161) remarked, ‘was developed to improve the functions of its preliterate precursors’. Its invention enabled, and responded to a need for, a rapid expansion in the representational capacity of transactional records. The first proto-cuneiform signs may have represented animals or cereal crops, but these were soon accompanied by many other signs representing a much wider range of goods, as requirements for record-making expanded beyond accounting for animals and crops to embrace a variety of new artefacts and commodities in a burgeoning economy. Scholars have not yet been able to interpret all the signs that were introduced, but it is known that signs were brought into use for artisan products such as textiles, ploughs, and items of pottery and for processed consumables such as beer (Englund, 1998, 69–71; Nissen et al., 1993, 31–2). Creators of proto-cuneiform records were also able to use signs for natural entities such as water (Englund, 1998, 70) and periods of time such as days and months (Finkel and Taylor, 2015, 88). Some signs may have had roots in earlier token shapes, but most had no known predecessors (Woods, 2015, 50). Their introduction did not alter the primary function of Mesopotamian record-keeping

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in tracking the production and movement of goods, but it uncovered numerous possibilities for creating records that could incorporate more detail and provide greater levels of clarity and precision. Scholars have also identified signs – or combinations of signs – that came into use to represent names of gods, names of places, occupations (such as ‘administrator’ or ‘labourer’), and names of individual human beings (Englund, 1998, 57, 60, 69–70, 91–2; Schmandt-Besserat, 2009, 150). Although scholars are unable to read all the names, research has suggested that over 300 personal names – and perhaps many more – could be represented in proto-cuneiform (Damerow, 2012, 162). Following this development, seal impressions ceased to be applied to proto-cuneiform tablets. Signs for personal names and occupations fulfilled the seal impressions’ former role of identifying the participants in a recorded transaction. The emergence of name signs also allowed lists of names to be recorded for the purpose of administering the performance of labour. Englund (2011, 46) noted the existence of about 50 proto-cuneiform ‘accounts … with numbers qualified by sign combinations that represent “labourer” and including sign combinations evidently representing personal names’. Most proto-cuneiform signs represented objects, entities, or people, and thus corresponded to what would today be called nouns, but some functioned as basic adjectives. Signs were employed to indicate colours (Englund, 1998, 98). There were also signs that could be used to differentiate ‘young’ from adult animals; alternatively, the ages of animals could be indicated on a proto-cuneiform tablet by means of ‘qualifying strokes’ added to noun signs (Englund, 1998, 148). A further innovation at this time was the introduction of new ways of representing numbers. Although the earlier token-based systems had theoretically been able to record transactions involving considerable quantities of goods, their reliance on one-to-one correspondence made the handling of large numbers problematic; recording the movement of four sheep using four tokens may have been fairly easy, but matters became more difficult when 40 sheep were involved. Regardless of whether 40 tokens had to be enclosed in an envelope, 40 tokens impressed on a tablet, or 40 marks made by impressing a single token 40 times, the recording process would have been cumbersome, and in practice the earlier systems appear to have been confined to the recording of smaller quantities. However, the growing separation of record-making from counting tools opened the way for the development of new signs to indicate numbers. The invention of numerical notation coincided with – and was closely linked to – the development of proto-cuneiform writing. By eliminating much of the unwieldiness inherent in the older approaches, the new signs provided simpler and more extensible methods of recording quantity. As many as thirteen different numerical notation systems are attested in Mesopotamia at this period, each being used to record a different type of

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commodity (Potts, 2016, 59), but they all employed distinctive number signs to replace the older practice of representation by means of one-to-one correspondence. Following these changes, if there was a need for a record of a transaction involving (for example) several jars of oil: the sign for ‘jar of oil’ was preceded by numerals – signs for 1, 10, and 60 …. [In a record using this notation,] 33 jars of oil were expressed by three 10s (three circular signs) and three units (three wedges). (Schmandt-Besserat, 2010, 30–1)2 Number signs came to be used, not only to specify quantities of goods or numbers of animals, but also to indicate sizes of fields and to denote sequences of dates (day 1, day 2, etc.) when records covered extended periods of time (Englund, 1998, 203–13; Walker, 1987, 54). A sign for ‘half ’ was also introduced (Englund, 2011, 46). Mesopotamians in the closing years of the fourth millennium showed considerable ingenuity in developing representational systems to meet increasingly complex requirements for record-making. Like the enveloped tokens that preceded them, clay tablets with protocuneiform script are commonly associated with the city of Uruk (now Warka, in southern Iraq). Of more than 6000 known proto-cuneiform tablets and tablet fragments, about 90% are from Uruk.3 With a population of about 40,000 (Englund, 2011, 33), Uruk was the largest, most innovative, and most politically developed of the cities that were established in the Mesopotamian region in a period of urbanization and rapid population growth. Because of this, the ‘social and economic developments that took place … during the fourth millennium BC have been collectively dubbed the “Uruk phenomenon” by the region’s archaeologists’ (Robson, 2007, 41). The new cities were dominated by temples, and accounting procedures were evidently centred within the temples, which appear to have been ‘the locus for the invention of writing’ (Lamberg-Karlovsky, 1999, 186). The temples acquired control of much of the land in and around the cities and regulated many of the cities’ other economic resources. Direction of the temples was in the hands of elite families, who developed an extensive managerial bureaucracy to administer each temple’s affairs. As the cities grew larger, administrators and skilled workers became increasingly hierarchized. Specialist artisans came to be attached to temple institutions, instead of working independently (Englund, 1998, 16; Lamberg-Karlovsky, 1999, 182–3). Mesopotamian art of this period often shows processions of people bringing goods to temples. Large numbers of proto-cuneiform tablets have been found in temple precincts, and many of them appear to record the delivery and receipt of temple dues (Schmandt-Besserat, 1982, 875), which were effectively a form of taxation. Record-making (as we have seen) was not a new phenomenon in the fourth millennium, but it was appropriated by, and adapted and developed

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to meet the needs of, the new institutional regime. In an economy no longer wholly based on subsistence farming, with a larger population and more goods in circulation, more complex administrative tools were required. The representational innovations associated with the invention of proto-cuneiform writing allowed temple officials in Uruk and other cities of southern Mesopotamia to implement stringent controls over the management of workers, goods, and livestock. In a context of urbanization and increasing bureaucracy, developments in the making and keeping of records reinforced a new social order in which the ruling elite was able to manipulate economic resources to its own advantage. Although the Uruk tablets were generally found among discarded debris, rather than in the exact locations where they had originated, archaeologists concluded that some of them had been discarded en bloc and retained ‘some of the integrity of the original writing units’; on this basis, they inferred that the tablets had originally been kept as ‘coherent and discrete administrative … archives’ of particular ‘accounting units’ of the administration (Englund, 1998, 41). Administrators in Uruk made and kept records, not of trade beyond the borders of the state, but of the domestic economy. They recorded the management of fields and their crops, and animals and their products; they listed the personnel responsible for agricultural and pastoral tasks and other aspects of production; above all, they kept accounts of goods delivered to or distributed from storage depots, including rations issued to workers and officials (Englund, 1998, 26–7, 39; Nissen, 2015, 121). Such records often formed an interconnected sequence: the records kept by a brewery administration, for example, traced the acquisition of barley, its supply to the brewery, the production of the beer, and its allocation to consumers. Administrators responsible for operations of this kind could also construct consolidated or summary accounts, transposing data from one tablet to another, with multiple transactions represented on a single tablet (Englund, 1998, 60, 63; Nissen et al., 1993, 30, 36–46). Tablets recording single transactions were small, usually less than 8 centimetres wide, but a tablet summarizing a group of transactions could be two or three times as large (Englund, 2011, 36).

Challenges of interpretation and representation Following the partial decipherment of proto-cuneiform script over the past 80 or 90 years, scholarly researchers have been able to read, or attempt to read, many of the signs written on proto-cuneiform tablets. Today, these tablets are the earliest records whose content is open to specific and detailed interpretation. Nevertheless – despite the potency of these records at the time of their creation – early clay tablets often remain enigmatic to modern readers. Part of a tablet now in the British Museum can be translated as:

50 Emergence of writing in Mesopotamia

day 1 5 1½ 1 day 2 5 1 5 day 3 5 8 (Walker, 1987, 53–4) Scholars have not yet been able to decipher the proto-cuneiform signs denoted here as , , , , and , but the numerals and the sign for ‘day’ are unmistakeable. It seems clear that this tablet records the handling of five s, one-and-a-half s, and one on day 1; five s, one , and five s on day 2; and five s and eight s on day 3; but its creator did not specify what was done with the commodities listed on the tablet. Expert scholars have interpreted them as rations issued to workers (Friberg, 1984, 111; Walker, 1987, 54) or as offerings brought to a temple (Postgate, 1992, 57), but the record remains ambiguous. For early users who understood the limited range of signs that its creator employed, the record identified the commodities handled on each day, but there were still constraints on its representational capacity: the creator of the record was unable to represent the nature or circumstances of the transactions in question. We may assume that matters of this kind would have been tacitly known to everyone at the time. The record was probably intended for use by people who were largely aware of its general context but perhaps needed to verify or be reminded of particular details. If it was used by or communicated to someone unfamiliar with its context, it would have had to be supplemented by an oral explanation. Like its unwritten precursors, a record such as this can be effective when it is kept for a short period and its use is confined to a small circle of people, but much of its content is still likely to prove perplexing when the record is circulated more widely or over longer periods of time. During the first half of the third millennium, written signs lost many of their former pictorial qualities, and proto-cuneiform gradually developed into the cuneiform script, which modern scholars can read with much greater confidence. A clay tablet from Fa-ra (Iraq) contains no signs whose individual meanings are unknown, but questions still arise about the interpretation of the record as a whole:

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1 barley ox 6 grass ox god Šurrupak 3 barley ox 6 grass ox god Gibil (Walker, 1987, 54–5) In this example, the record-maker was able to indicate that transactions involving oxen or feedstuffs took place in relation to [the temples of] two named gods, but the record does not specify the precise nature of the transactions. Scholarly researchers have been unable to agree whether the juxtaposition of the signs for ‘3’, ‘barley’, and ‘ox’ refers to ‘three barley-fed oxen’ or to ‘three consignments of barley for use as ox fodder’, and they have no way of knowing whether the oxen or the consignments of feedstuffs mentioned in the record had been brought to or received from the temples concerned. Difficulties of this kind arise frequently when scholars attempt to interpret the earliest written records. Occasionally, a proto-cuneiform record used signs that appear to indicate what was done with particular goods, but the use of such signs was rare (Englund, 2011, 36). In the absence of signs that could represent the roles played by different parties, as archaeologist Hans Nissen (2015, 121) remarked, modern readers ‘often cannot … decide whether the goods recorded in a transaction were delivered to or were distributed from the central stores’. How did the people who read these records in ancient times know these matters? Very often, the maker of a record could probably assume that the circumstances of its making would already be known to its likely users. If, for example, both the record-maker and the users were working in a situation where goods routinely moved in a single direction, the meaning of a particular record would be much more apparent to everyone concerned. The location where the tablet was kept, or the size or shape of the tablet, might also have provided its initial Mesopotamian users with the necessary clues. In other instances, it appears that the layout and format of tablets conveyed crucial aspects of their meaning. The earliest written tablets were often partitioned into box-like segments, which scholars who specialize in studying them call ‘cases’. Typically, each ‘case’ held a numeral and a sign indicating a commodity, and sometimes other signs too; the sum of the various numerals on the front of the tablet was often inscribed on the back (Nissen et al., 1993, 20, 132–3). ‘Cases’ positioned in different parts of the tablet seem to have had different meanings, but the signs were not entered in any particular order within a ‘case’. Scholars believe that interpretation of the tablet as a whole depended as much on an understanding of its materiality and physical structure as on a reading of the individual signs inscribed upon it. The arrangement of the ‘cases’ may have varied from one type of transaction to another (Michalowski, 1996, 35); according to Assyriologist Eleanor Robson (2003,

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21), ‘the spatial organization of the cases on the surface of the tablet could be quite complex, reflecting often sophisticated accounting procedures’. Nevertheless, there were limits to what could be achieved by visual positioning of ‘cases’. By the middle of the third millennium, about 4500 years ago, Mesopotamian record-makers were experimenting with a new approach to writing that sought to represent the words used in spoken language, and it was becoming apparent that this could offer a more powerful solution. In a revolutionary but complex sequence of developments, cuneiform signs came to be linked with the pronunciation of words and parts of words, in such a way that the signs took on phonetic values. At the risk of oversimplifying an intricate array of changes, what broadly happened was that signs representing commodities or objects in the natural world were appropriated to represent the sounds of syllables. For example, because the Sumerian word for ‘sky’ is an, the sign used for ‘sky’ also came to be used to represent the syllable ‘an’; the word for barley is še, and the sign for ‘barley’ came to be used for the syllable ‘še’. In a less exact equivalence, a sign for ‘wood’ (giš in the Sumerian language) was adopted for the syllable ‘iz’ (Coulmas, 2003, 47; Walker, 1987, 12). These substitutions may initially have been driven by a need to find an improved means of representing personal names (Postgate, 2005, 277), but the practice was also applied to a variety of other nouns: for example, the sign for ú (or mu, meaning ‘a plant’) seems to have done double duty for mu (meaning ‘year’) as well as the syllable ‘mu’ (Coulmas, 1989, 78; Fischer, 2001, 52). Other parts of speech, such as verbs, became writable on a similar basis: the sign for ‘garlic’, sum in Sumerian, came to be used for the verb ‘give’, for which the Sumerian word is also sum (Postgate, 1992, 64). Further developments in the sign system allowed it to represent prepositions and other elements of grammar. These changes revealed new dimensions for the art of writing and new possibilities for creating more comprehensive records of administrative transactions. For the first time, a record could be inscribed using complete sentences and continuous prose. These changes were also associated with the gradual adoption of conventions that the words written on tablets should be arranged in horizontal lines and that the lines should be read from left to right and from the top to the bottom of the tablet. As Robson noted, conventions of this kind were a necessary part of the assimilation of writing to the elements used in speech: Once writing evolved the capacity to represent syllables and thereby approximate the sounds of speech, … it became increasingly imperative to order the written symbols to follow the structure of Sumerian as a spoken language. The visual logic of the earliest accounts was … lost in the shift to linear organization of writing during the first half of the third millennium. (Robson, 2003, 21)

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According to archaeologist Clemens Reichel (2013, 47), ‘writing as a syntaxbased recording system emerged … around 2500 BC’. The ability to deploy continuous prose transformed the representational capacity and versatility of records. It enabled the creator of an accounting record to state explicitly that, for example, ‘Lugal-pirigtur, the administrator of the White Temple, delivered’ certain quantities of grain, which ‘Šubur, the chancellor, transferred to the granary’ (Nissen et al., 1993, 50). In records such as this, the levels of ambiguity found in earlier texts have largely disappeared; the record gives every appearance of conveying its message to a reader who has no prior knowledge of the transaction.

Land ownership: using writing to record land transfers The earliest written records in Mesopotamia were made for much the same purposes as their unwritten predecessors; their functions were confined to accounting for livestock, labour, and the movement and storage of commodities. However, the emergence of the first forms of writing, and then of new modes of writing that could encode spoken language, opened up possibilities for creating written records of other human activities. These possibilities were not realized immediately; but a few centuries after the first written accounting records, people began to use writing to make records relating to land possessed or owned by families or private individuals. Acknowledgement of private ‘rights’ to land is a more recent phenomenon than recognition of tools or utensils as family or personal possessions. Communities had long been intimately associated with the lands where they drew their sustenance, but in earlier times the relations between people and land had probably been expressed in terms of mutual ‘belonging’, not in terms of ‘possessing’ or ‘owning’ the land. The attachment of groups of people to tracts of land will have been enshrined in general tradition, but we may assume that there were no perceived needs for particularized records of land relations. Notions of property in land almost certainly did not develop until individual families came to be associated with particular plots of land as a result of the expansion and intensification of agriculture (Earle, 2000, 43; Leakey, 1981, 229). Studies of traditional societies at all periods of history have shown that, in such societies, sales of land are rare. When a family occupies a parcel of land over an extended period of time, custom may allow sons and daughters to remain in occupation after the death of their parents, but inheritance rights of this kind rarely allow the land to be passed outside the family. In Mesopotamia, the earliest understandings that parcels of land could be treated as the property of individuals are unlikely to have embraced the idea that those individuals had rights of alienation. Over time, however, as notions of what we might call ‘private ownership’ became more widespread, there was evidently a gradual acceptance that individuals could alienate land by giving or selling it to others.

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According to Assyriologist Piotr Steinkeller (1999), varying ownership practices arose in different parts of the region, particularly where arable land was concerned. In much of the north, large estates owned by the rulers and wealthy families came to co-exist with smaller plots in the private possession of subsistence farmers, but conditions in other parts of the region militated against the continuous exploitation of single small plots of arable land; in the south, such plots were often subject to reassignment and were not deemed to be privately owned. Typically, among non-elite households: in southern Babylonia during the third millennium BC, an individual family held a tract of arable land as their subsistence field .… Each year the family in question would be assigned a … different six iku [about two hectares] of land .… [But] throughout the third and second millennium BC, both in southern and northern Babylonia, orchard land and house lots could be privately owned and freely alienated. (Steinkeller, 1999, 303) The introduction of transferable private ownership of land also introduced the possibility of ownership disputes, which in turn brought a need for methods of recalling transfers of land that had occurred in the past. When a disagreement occurs about a previous change of ownership, what needs to be invoked is not (primarily) a generalized cultural tradition about the community and its lands, but a memory of a particular occasion when ownership of a particular property was transferred from one person to another. In pre-literate societies, an event of this kind is often marked by a distinctive public ceremony, which serves to impress memories of the transaction in the minds of those who witness it, so that these witnesses can be called on to testify to what occurred if it is disputed at a later date. In third-millennium Mesopotamia, sales of land were sometimes – perhaps always – accompanied by a feast, which was held at the buyer’s house and was doubtless intended to make the occasion more memorable (Gelb et al., 1991, 243–4). Heralds were employed to make sales publicly known (Van de Mieroop, 1999, 267). Physical objects were also used in the conveyancing process; a wooden peg or nail was driven into a wall, perhaps to announce the sale or to attach a rope for measuring the property being sold, but almost certainly also to symbolize the transaction and help preserve a memory of it (Gelb et al., 1991, 240–1; Van de Mieroop, 1999, 268). Although we first hear of these practices after the invention of writing, they were doubtless survivals from the pre-literate era. When writing techniques became available, these practices could be supplemented by creating written records. In Mesopotamia, written documents that undoubtedly served to record sales and purchases of fields and houses are known from the middle of the third millennium; many are in the form of clay tablets, but some records of field purchases are on stone (Gelb et al., 1991; Renger, 1995, 273–8). A few earlier records – in the form of inscribed stones – relating to field

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ownership are known, but these have not proved easy for modern scholars to understand; they may be records of purchases, but it is also possible that they refer to grants from a ruler, or they may simply be lists of fields belonging to a particular individual (Gelb et al., 1991, 27–32). Dating from the early years of the third millennium, they are the earliest known records of a ‘legal’ nature and the earliest written records created by individuals in a private capacity. As written language developed, the wording of these records became less enigmatic (and therefore easier for scholars to interpret). Many survive only in fragments, but one of the better-preserved examples of a sale record from this period stated that: … the field Gi-lugal, from Ib-mud son of Á-ni-kur-ra, … Lum-ma-tur son of En-an-na-túm bought; 20¾ gur-sag-gál of barley was the price … (Gelb et al., 1991, 86–7) The advent of continuous prose writing enabled the makers of the later stone records and clay tablets, not only to list sellers, buyers, properties, and prices, but also to construct sentences to the effect that the seller had received the price, that various ritual acts concerning the conveyance had taken place, or that the parties had sworn oaths or given guarantees.

Dating and sealing of records As writing techniques matured, Mesopotamian record-makers started inscribing dates on records. Clay tablets recording sales in the middle of the third millennium sometimes stated the name of a high official or governor in office at the time of the transaction, and at a slightly later period inscriptions began to include the ordinal year of office: At that time En-te-me-na was governor of Lagaš … his nineteenth year. (Gelb et al., 1991, 249) Inscribing dates in this way requires, not merely a technical capacity to understand and represent a calendar, but also an emotional ability or willingness on the part of record-makers to acknowledge the place of actions and events within a conceptual framework of passing time. Although a few earlier examples have been found, the use of year-dates on records seems to have become common practice around 2300 or 2200 (Michalowski, 2014, 151; Steinkeller, 2017, 12–13). At the close of the third millennium, records of private transactions could be dated by year, month, and day (Gelb et al., 1991, 249). Administrative records, too, bore dates at this period, as a tablet from Lagaš, recording the issue of rations, illustrates: 10 men at [a named quantity] of barley each … from Addamu, Atu the teamleader and Lu-baba the team-leader have received it. The superintendent is

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Ur-nigin-gar; the controller is Lugal-imrua. Month 6: 35th year of the reign of Šulgi [king of Ur]. (Fiandra, 1981, 33; Glassner, 2003, 190) The practice of enveloping was reintroduced at this time: tablets were sometimes placed in clay envelopes, presumably to prevent unauthorized interference. The tablet recording the grant of rations to Atu and Lu-baba was enclosed in such an envelope, which bears on its surface a transcript or paraphrase of the record held inside it. Sealing of records was also reintroduced, both for tablets recording private transactions and for certain administrative records such as receipts. After the invention of writing 1000 years earlier, sealings had continued to be used on doors and containers, but seals had rarely been applied to written records. Towards the end of the third millennium, however, tablets – and envelopes containing tablets – began to be sealed. The role of the reintroduced seal impressions appears to have been rather different from the role of their early predecessors. Since seal impressions are sometimes found on tablets enclosed inside an envelope, it is evident that seals were no longer merely, or even primarily, applied to make unauthorized opening of envelopes detectable (Renger, 1977, 79). Receipts were sometimes sealed by a scribe, but often a seal was applied by the recipient of goods; it appears that the administrator who issued the goods retained the record, and the impression of the recipient’s seal functioned as an acknowledgement that the goods had been delivered, much like a signature on a modern receipt (Glassner, 2003, 190; Steinkeller, 2003, 38). In such cases, a seal impression served to prevent or discourage attempts at repudiating the delivery. The development of the ability to create more detailed records required larger writing surfaces, and by the middle of the third millennium tablets as large as 40  40 centimetres were in use (Postgate, 1992, 56). The closing years of the third millennium also saw a vast increase in the volume of recordmaking. More than 86,000 clay tablet records survive from the final century of the millennium (Charpin, 2014, 25). With the challenges of encoding spoken language into writing largely resolved, recording practices extended to the use of precise dates, and clay envelopes and seals were deployed even for records of relatively minor transactions with little or no apparent long-term significance. By the end of the millennium, the rudiments of representation that were to be employed in Mesopotamia over many generations were broadly in place.

Notes 1 Scholars have assumed that tablets with proto-cuneiform script must be of later date than the ‘impressed’ or ‘numerical’ tablets, but this is far from certain; excavators found both types of tablet mixed together in rubbish heaps, and stratigraphic analysis of their dating has not been possible (Potts, 2016, 61; cf. Woods, 2015, 34).

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2 Some scholars believe that an initial shift beyond one-to-one correspondence may have occurred at an earlier date, either with tokens (Schmandt-Besserat, 2019, 10) or with impressed tablets (Englund, 2006, 28–9; Nissen et al., 1993, 127–9); but certainty on this point seems unattainable. 3 These figures are derived from Damerow (2012, 162) and Englund (1998, 32).

References Akkermans, Peter M. M. G., and Kim Duistermaat (1997) ‘Of Storage and Nomads: The Sealings from Late Neolithic Sabi Abyad, Syria’, Paléorient 22 (2): 17–44. Bennison-Chapman, Lucy E. (2019) ‘Clay Objects as “Tokens”? Evidence for Early Counting and Administration at Late Neolithic Tell Sabi Abyad, Mesopotamia’, Levant 50 (3): 305–337. Charpin, Dominique (2014) ‘The Historian and the Old Babylonian Archives’, in Heather D. Baker and Michael Jursa, eds., Documentary Sources in Ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman Economic History, Oxbow. Coulmas, Florian (1989) The Writing Systems of the World, Basil Blackwell. Coulmas, Florian (2003) Writing Systems: An Introduction to Their Linguistic Analysis, Cambridge University Press. Damerow, Peter (2012) ‘The Origins of Writing and Arithmetic’, in Jürgen Renn, ed., The Globalization of Knowledge in History, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. Earle, Timothy (2000) ‘Archaeology, Property, and Prehistory’, Annual Review of Anthropology 29: 39–60. Englund, Robert K. (1996) Proto-Cuneiform Texts from Diverse Collections, G. Mann. Englund, Robert K. (1998) ‘Texts from the Late Uruk Period’, in Josef Bauer, Robert K. Englund, and Manfred Krebernik, eds., Mesopotamien: Späturuk-Zeit und Frühdynastische Zeit, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Englund, Robert K. (2006) ‘An Examination of the “Textual” Witnesses to Late Uruk World Systems’, Englund, Robert K. (2011) ‘Accounting in Proto-Cuneiform’, in Karen Radner and Eleanor Robson, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture, Oxford University Press. Ferioli, Piera, Enrica Fiandra, Marcella Frangipane, Romina Laurito, Maria Bianca D’Anna, and C. Simonetti (2007) ‘The Arslantepe Period VIa Cretulae and Other Administrative Devices: Material and Functional Characteristics’, in Marcella Frangipane, ed., Arslantepe Cretulae, Università di Roma. Fiandra, Enrica (1981) ‘The Connection between Clay Sealings and Tablets in Administration’, in Herbert Härtel, ed., South Asian Archaeology 1979, Dietrich Reimer. Finkel, Irving, and Jonathan Taylor (2015) Cuneiform, British Museum. Fischer, Steven R. (2001) A History of Writing, Reaktion. Freikman, Michael, and Yosef Garfinkel (2017) ‘Sealings before Cities: New Evidence on the Beginnings of Administration in the Ancient Near East’, Levant 49 (1): 24–45. Friberg, Jöran (1984) ‘Numbers and Measures in the Earliest Written Records’, Scientific American 250 (2): 110–118. Gelb, Ignace J., Piotr Steinkeller, and Robert M. Whiting (1991) Earliest Land Tenure Systems in the Near East: Ancient Kudurrus, Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

58 Emergence of writing in Mesopotamia Glassner, Jean-Jacques (2003) The Invention of Cuneiform, Johns Hopkins University Press. Lamberg-Karlovsky, C. C. (1999) ‘Households, Land Tenure, and Communication Systems in the 6th–4th Millennia of Greater Mesopotamia’, in Michael Hudson and Baruch A. Levine, eds., Urbanization and Land Ownership in the Ancient Near East, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Leakey, Richard E. (1981) The Making of Mankind, Michael Joseph. Michalowski, Piotr (1996) ‘Mesopotamian Cuneiform: Origin’, in Peter T. Daniels and William Bright, eds., The World’s Writing Systems, Oxford University Press. Michalowski, Piotr (2014) ‘The Presence of the Past in Early Mesopotamian Writings’, in Kurt A. Raaflaub, ed., Thinking, Recording, and Writing History in the Ancient World, Wiley-Blackwell. Nissen, Hans J. (2015) ‘Urbanization and the Techniques of Communication’, in Norman Yoffee, ed., The Cambridge World History, Volume III: Early Cities in Comparative Perspective, 4000 BCE–1200 CE, Cambridge University Press. Nissen, Hans J., Peter Damerow, and Robert K. Englund (1993) Archaic Bookkeeping, University of Chicago Press. Postgate, J. Nicholas (1992) Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History, Routledge. Postgate, J. Nicholas (2005) ‘New Angles on Early Writing’, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 15 (2): 275–280. Potts, D. T. (2016) The Archaeology of Elam, 2nd edn., Cambridge University Press. Reichel, Clemens (2013) ‘Bureaucratic Backlashes: Bureaucrats as Agents of Socioeconomic Change in Proto-Historic Mesopotamia’, in Joshua Englehardt, ed., Agency in Ancient Writing, University Press of Colorado. Renger, J. M. (1977) ‘Legal Aspects of Sealing in Ancient Mesopotamia’, in McGuire Gibson and Robert D. Biggs, eds., Seals and Sealing in the Ancient Near East, Undena. Renger, J. M. (1995) ‘Institutional, Communal, and Individual Ownership or Possession of Arable Land in Ancient Mesopotamia from the End of the Fourth to the End of the First Millennium B.C.’, Chicago-Kent Law Review 71 (1): 269–319. Robson, Eleanor (2003) ‘Tables and Tabular Formatting in Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria, 2500 BCE–50 CE’, in Martin Campbell-Kelly, Mary Croarken, Raymond Flood, and Eleanor Robson, eds., The History of Mathematical Tables, Oxford University Press. Robson, Eleanor (2007) ‘Literacy, Numeracy and the State in Early Mesopotamia’, in Kathryn Lomas, Ruth D. Whitehouse, and John B. Wilkins, eds., Literacy and the State in the Ancient Mediterranean, Accordia Research Institute. Schmandt-Besserat, Denise (1982) ‘The Emergence of Recording’, American Anthropologist 84 (4): 871–878. Schmandt-Besserat, Denise (1992) Before Writing, Volume I: From Counting to Cuneiform, University of Texas Press. Schmandt-Besserat, Denise (1994) ‘Tokens: A Prehistoric Archive System’, in Piera Ferioli, Enrica Fiandra, Gian Giacomo Fissore, and Marcella Frangipane, eds., Archives before Writing: Proceedings of the International Colloquium, Oriolo Romano, 23–25 October 1991, Centro Internazionale di Ricerche Archeologiche Antropologiche e Storiche. Schmandt-Besserat, Denise (2009) ‘Tokens and Writing: The Cognitive Development’, Scripta 1: 145–154.

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Schmandt-Besserat, Denise (2010) ‘The Token System of the Ancient Near East: Its Role in Counting, Writing, the Economy and Cognition’, in Iain Morley and Colin Renfrew, eds., The Archaeology of Measurement, Cambridge University Press. Schmandt-Besserat, Denise (2018) ‘Prehistoric Administrative Technologies and the Ancient Near Eastern Redistribution Economy’, in Javier Álvarez-Mon, Gian Pietro Basello, and Yasmina Wicks, eds., The Elamite World, Routledge. Schmandt-Besserat, Denise (2019) ‘The Earliest Precursor of Writing’, in Paul Heyer and Peter Urquhart, eds., Communication in History: Stone Age Symbols to Social Media, 7th edn., Routledge. Steinkeller, Piotr (1999) ‘Land Tenure Conditions in Third Millennium Babylonia: The Problem of Regional Variation’, in Michael Hudson and Baruch A. Levine, eds., Urbanization and Land Ownership in the Ancient Near East, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Steinkeller, Piotr (2003) ‘Archival Practices at Babylonia in the Third Millennium’, in Maria Brosius, ed., Ancient Archives and Archival Traditions, Oxford University Press. Steinkeller, Piotr (2017) History, Texts and Art in Early Babylonia, De Gruyter. Van de Mieroop, Marc (1999) ‘Thoughts on Urban Real Estate in Ancient Mesopotamia’, in Michael Hudson and Baruch A. Levine, eds., Urbanization and Land Ownership in the Ancient Near East, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Walker, C. B. F. (1987) Cuneiform, British Museum. Woods, Christopher (2015) ‘The Earliest Mesopotamian Writing’, in Christopher Woods, Emily Teeter, and Geoff Emberling, eds., Visible Language: Inventions of Writing in the Ancient Middle East and Beyond, 2nd edn., Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Yeo, Geoffrey (2007) ‘Concepts of Record (1): Evidence, Information, and Persistent Representations’, American Archivist 70 (2): 315–343.

Chapter 4

Records and writing in other early societies: Egypt, the Aegean, China, and the Americas

This chapter examines developments in record-making and record-keeping in a number of other early societies. It opens with an account of early recording practices in Egypt, where writing techniques were adopted at roughly the same period as in Mesopotamia, and it then considers developments that occurred at later dates in the Minoan and Mycenaean societies of the Aegean basin, in early China, in Mesoamerica, and in Inka Peru.

Egypt In contrast with the wealth of material available from Mesopotamia, early recording practices in Egypt have left relatively few traces. Nevertheless, we have evidence of measures taken to protect stored goods and track their movements, in the form of seals and marks on pottery. Simple marks on items of pottery were employed in Egypt in the fifth millennium (Graff, 2013, 38), and seals came into use in the middle of the fourth millennium. According to Egyptologist Josef Wegner: the production of seals, and their ongoing use for sealing as part of Egyptian administrative and economic systems, … appeared during the late Predynastic period (ca.3400 BCE) …. The early development of seals in Egypt is closely linked to the wider ancient Near East, as reflected in the early adoption of the cylinder seal … and the dominance of that particular form for over a millennium. (Wegner, 2018, 230) Cylinder seals in Egypt may have been imported from Mesopotamia. They were impressed on lumps of clay attached to pots, baskets, and other containers, and at a slightly later date on clay stoppers applied to the rims of jars (Regulski, 2010, 36; Wengrow, 2006, 188). Like the sealings discussed in Chapter 2, they show that the storage or movement of goods was subject to control; they provided safeguards against attempts to tamper with containers and presumably served to identify individuals who played a role in administration.

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There is no evidence for the use of tokens in Egypt, but the early use of pottery marks and clay sealings prefigured later developments in Egyptian recording practices. Much of our knowledge of fourth-millennium practices derives from an elaborate tomb discovered at Abydos, to the west of the river Nile. Known to archaeologists as Tomb U-j, it is often described as a royal tomb; it is said to be the largest and richest tomb of an early Egyptian ruler that has yet been found (Dreyer, 2011, 128). For Egyptologists, in the words of museum curator Ilona Regulski (2018, 260), Tomb U-j is ‘of exceptional importance with regard to the origin of writing, as it contained … evidence of writing from … ca.3250 BC, … earlier than was previously thought’. Among the finds from this tomb are a number of large jars with markings – mostly depicting plants and animals – painted in ink on their surface (Dreyer, 2011, 134). Scholars have interpreted these markings as representations of names, either of people or more probably of places, and have proposed that they should be understood as a form of written inscription (Regulski, 2010, 17). Sealings, too, were discovered in the tomb, where many of them had originally been attached to ceramic wine-bottles. Their seal impressions seem indicative of ownership, but they do not employ the same range of markings as the painted jars (Bestock, 2013, 105; Wengrow, 2006, 202). The finds from Tomb U-j that have attracted most attention are small bone or ivory ‘tags’, which are rarely larger than 1½  2 centimetres. Each tag has a small drill hole, which seems to indicate that the tags were attached as labels to objects or containers in the tomb (Dreyer, 2011, 135). Some tags are engraved with geometrical signs that have been interpreted as numbers. Others bear engraved signs that are comparable to the markings on the painted jars; these have often been thought to represent the names of places that supplied the commodities for the tomb. The signs on the tags have been acclaimed as demonstrating an important stage in the formation of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing (Dreyer, 2011, 134–5; Wengrow, 2011, 102). Although these materials were found in the context of a burial, scholarly researchers have generally believed that the role of the inscriptions was administrative. In early Egypt, according to archaeologist Laurel Bestock, administration and ritual were interconnected, and the seals and tags from Tomb U-j ‘may best be seen as the marking of goods at their time of collection by the administration for use in … ritualized burial’ (Bestock, 2013, 106).1 Some scholars think that similar methods must have been used in a range of more mundane or less specialized administrative settings (Dawoud, 2008, 27), but others contend that administrative record-making at this period is unlikely to have extended beyond elite circles (Baines, 2004, 170). Pottery inscriptions and tags of a slightly later date sometimes denote the nature and quality of a container’s contents, as well as the names of persons and places of origin (Dreyer, 2008, 20–2; Regulski, 2010, 26). A late-fourth-millennium ivory tag found in another burial-place (‘Cemetery B’) at Abydos is inscribed ‘first-quality oil’ (Dreyer, 2000, 6) and had doubtless been attached to

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the vessel in which this oil was stored. Some tags from this period also carry signs indicating the quantity of goods stored in a particular container. By the beginning of the third millennium, according to archaeologist David Wengrow (2011, 101), a tag could convey a message ‘through a combination of written and pictorial elements’. Further major change came with the invention of papyrus as a writing and recording medium in the early years of the third millennium. Papyrus offered a larger writing surface than bone or ivory tags and allowed records to be made at greater length; the use of tags seems to have ended when papyrus became widely available. Clay sealings, however, continued to be used for monitoring stored goods, and seal impressions bore inscriptions giving the names of kings, officials, and localities (Wegner, 2018, 232–3). An early papyrus document from Abusir in northern Egypt is a record of inspections of the impressed sealings that had been applied to temple doors (Nolan, 2018, 280–7). By the middle of the third millennium, detailed accounting records on papyrus were well-established in Egypt and allowed precise monitoring of revenues and expenditures. Surviving examples include accounts of food delivered to a team of workers (Tallet and Marouard, 2014, 8) and accounts of grain and cloth delivered to the administrator of an agricultural estate (Posener-Kriéger, 1986, 25). Like their Mesopotamian counterparts, the earliest Egyptian accounting records did not attempt to encode all the complexities of spoken language, but they were often partitioned into segments and made use of tabular formats to underpin their comprehensibility (Eyre, 2013, 42). They took full advantage of the capacity of papyrus to accommodate lengthy documentation; some survive only in fragments, but others – more intact – vary from 1¼ to 1½ metres in length (Posener-Kriéger, 1986, 25). In due course, Egyptian writing was further developed and adapted to extend its representational capacities. A remarkable recent find on a third-millennium site at Wadi al-Jarf on the Red Sea coast was a logbook of operations connected with the building of the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops), which includes ‘short, formulaic diary entries’ in a columnar format (Eyre, 2018, 5; Tallet and Marouard, 2014, 8–10). The ability to represent continuous prose – or an approximation of it – in writing was achieved in Egypt at roughly the same date as in Mesopotamia, about five or six centuries after Tomb U-j, and tabular formats then largely fell out of use. Not long after the earliest surviving accounting records, property sales – or transactions resembling sales – are known to have been recorded in writing with the characteristics of prose (Posener-Kriéger, 1979; cf. Jasnow, 2003, 112, 128). Elementary techniques for inscribing dates on records seem to have developed in Egypt earlier than in Mesopotamia, in the closing years of the fourth millennium. The upper part of the ivory tag from Cemetery B at Abydos contains name signs and pictorial elements that Egyptologists have interpreted as a regnal year date: the year when king Narmer celebrated ‘smiting

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the Libyan marshland people’ (Dreyer, 2000). This is assumed to be the year of delivery of the product mentioned in the lower part of the tag. Similar tags giving year dates (by referring to a notable event that occurred during the year) survive from the time of Narmer’s successors (Dreyer, 2008, 20–2; Regulski, 2010, 34), and more precise methods of dating were introduced in the early third millennium (Regulski, 2010, 34–5). A draft of a property sale record from the middle of the third millennium bears an exact date: ‘the year following the third livestock count of Upper and Lower Egypt, the third month of prt, the 26th day’ (Posener-Kriéger, 1979, 322). Scholars have debated whether Mesopotamia or Egypt should be claimed as the first society to achieve or optimize the use of writing; the discoveries at Tomb U-j have called into question the traditional view that Mesopotamia acquired writing before Egypt. In much the same way, the early use of dating techniques in Egypt appears to undermine the hypothesis that Egyptian written record-making was wholly or largely derived from Mesopotamian practice. With the emergence of a very different script and the adoption of papyrus rather than clay as a writing medium, Egyptian approaches to record-making should probably be seen as parallel rather than secondary developments. In Mesopotamia and Egypt alike, dramatic social and economic changes during the fourth and third millennia brought needs for – and enabled – new methods of creating and keeping records of human activity.

The Aegean Similar changes took place at a later date in the island of Crete, where a people known to modern scholars as the Minoans acquired considerable influence over territories bordering the Aegean Sea. In Crete, the Minoans constructed a number of large administration centres, known to archaeologists as ‘palaces’ or ‘palatial complexes’, where economic affairs were organized and essential goods were stored. These ‘palaces’ are thought to have functioned as hubs of political as well as economic control, and scholars have often observed that the structuring of Aegean society around powerful palatial centres appears to have close Mesopotamian and Egyptian parallels. In much the same way as in Mesopotamia and Egypt, the first traces of administrative activity in Crete and the Aegean region are found before the advent of writing, at a time when seals and clay sealings began to be used to secure stored goods. In the Aegean, in the words of archaeologist Olga Krzyszkowska (2005, 1), ‘seals and sealings are not attested … until the third millennium BC’, several thousand years after their first appearance in south-west Asia, but their use rapidly became widespread. Seals have been found in third-millennium graves and were perhaps among an individual’s most prized possessions. Almost all have stringholes and could have been worn when not in use for sealing; a second-millennium fresco from the Minoan ‘palace’ at Knossos in central Crete shows a man wearing a seal on his wrist (Krzyszkowska, 2005, 21–2, 76, 98). Like seals in south-west

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Asia, Aegean seals probably served multiple purposes, functioning as amulets, decorative jewellery, and signs of status, as well as practical sealing devices. At Lerna on the Greek mainland, seals were used in the middle of the third millennium to make impressions on clay sealings that secured jars, baskets, and other containers (Younger, 2018, 346). Similar practices are attested in Crete at a slightly later date. In the early-second-millennium palace at Phaistos, near the southern coast of Crete, archaeologists have found more than 6000 clay sealings, which had apparently been used to control access to boxes or chests containing goods or the doors of rooms where goods were held (Palaima, 1990, 89; Younger, 2018, 347). Sealing systems in the Aegean appear to have been similar to those in Mesopotamia and Egypt; in addition to protecting goods in storage or transit, sealings identified the individuals who had applied seals or authorized their application. Each sealing could supply evidence of past activity, and some scholars have argued that – at sites such as Lerna and Phaistos – broken sealings may have been temporarily retained for further checking or auditing of transactions (Krzyszkowska, 2005, 50, 108; Palaima, 1990, 89–90). As palatial systems grew more complex, sealing techniques were adapted for new administrative purposes. From the early second millennium, seals were impressed on lumps of clay that were unattached to other objects. Some may have served as evidence of entitlement to rations or as ‘passports’ granting safe passage to their carriers (Krzyszkowska, 2005, 163; Weingarten, 2012, 320); others are believed to have operated as receipts for goods delivered or transferred (Hallager, 1996, 116–18). Similar artefacts found on the islands of Kea and Samothrace indicate the spread of Cretan methods of administration to other parts of the Aegean (Krzyszkowska, 2005, 103, 163). Although scholars sometimes refer to them as ‘sealings’, these artefacts did not seal anything; they seem to have functioned purely as administrative tools and records. They remained in use after the Minoans adopted writing, and some bore short written inscriptions. In the palaces of Crete, writing supplemented and complemented older methods of recording using seals and sealings but never wholly replaced them. Even after the possibility of inscribing a sealing became available, the Minoans continued to use uninscribed sealings for recording simple transactions where writing was deemed unnecessary. Modern scholarly consensus is that writing was not developed independently in the Aegean region, but was borrowed and adapted from external – possibly Egyptian – models (Schoep, 2007, 56; Steele, 2017a, 2). According to archaeologist Angeliki Karagianni (2015, 26), ‘the history of writing in the prehistoric Aegean begins on Crete in about 2000/2100 BC, when the earliest pictorial signs considered to represent a form of “proto-script” … are found’. This ‘proto-script’ appears to have been used only on seals, but it was followed by two ostensibly more developed and more widely used scripts, known to scholars as Cretan Hieroglyphic and Linear A. These scripts have not yet been fully deciphered, but Linear A is the better attested of the two, with about 1500 surviving examples.

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As well as being used to inscribe sealings, the Linear A script eventually came to be used on a variety of ornamental and functional media, including metal pins, rings, stone vases, and pottery. Archaeologist Ilse Schoep (2007, 57–8) has suggested that the application of writing to objects of this kind may have raised the object’s value above that of its uninscribed counterparts and perhaps also invoked a relationship with supernatural powers. Many of these objects may have had a ritual purpose. But others – such as containers used for storage and transport – seem to have been largely or wholly utilitarian, and their Linear A inscriptions probably played an administrative role in controlling stored commodities and recording their movements (Allen, 2017, 181–3; Steele, 2017b, 169). Both Cretan Hieroglyphic and Linear A were used to inscribe small clay tablets, broadly reminiscent of those employed in Mesopotamia. Only five tablets in the Cretan Hieroglyphic script are known, but there are more than 300 surviving tablets, or fragments of tablets, written in Linear A (Tomas, 2013, 175–6). Although scholars cannot read these scripts, they can identify numerals and a few other signs, and experts who have studied the tablets broadly agree that they served as records of the movements of goods, animals, and people and as inventories of stored products (Allen, 2017, 166). The introduction of clay tablets coincided with the building of the first ‘palaces’ in Crete, and it can be assumed that they allowed people conducting palatial business to record more complex transactions, for which inscribed or uninscribed sealings may have been found inadequate. It appears, however, that tablets never became the predominant mode of administrative record-keeping in Minoan Crete. Sealings of various kinds have been found at Minoan sites in much greater numbers than tablets. Some are known to have been attached to perishable writing materials such as parchment; in every case, the parchment is now lost and only the sealing survives, but scholars have concluded that Minoan scripts must have been used to inscribe administrative records in parchment form. Archaeological evidence suggests that thread or string was wound around the folded parchment before it was sealed; after the clay sealing was applied, the parchment could not be unfolded without breaking the sealing. Sealings served to prevent, or at least inhibit, unauthorized reading of records (Krzyszkowska, 2005, 155–6; Tomas, 2012, 348–9). About 400 years after the first appearance of Linear A, political control of Crete passed to a people from the Greek mainland, who used a different script. Modern scholars refer to these people as Mycenaeans and their script as Linear B. The Mycenaeans adopted – or adapted – many of the Minoans’ record-keeping practices, including the use of clay tablets and sealings. However, in contrast to Minoan practice, inscribed tablets seem to have predominated in Mycenaean record-keeping; they survive in greater numbers than sealings at Mycenaean sites, and their formats, shapes, and sizes differ from those of their Minoan predecessors.

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The earliest surviving tablets written in the Linear B script are from Knossos. Others have been found at Pylos in the western Peloponnese and – in smaller numbers – at other mainland locations, including Mycenae (the first of these sites to be excavated), Tiryns, and Thebes. In all these locations, much as in Mesopotamia at the time of the earliest written records, it appears that an elite-controlled central authority had emerged; at Pylos, some of the population received rations from the central authority, while others occupied landholdings that were subject to central monitoring (Palaima, 2004, 284). Unlike records from the Linear A era, which have often been found in elite private houses as well as palatial buildings, Linear B tablets have almost never been found outside central administrative complexes. Scholars have inferred that Mycenaean administrators made and kept records for their own reference and that other parties are unlikely to have had access to them (Schoep, 2002, 13; Steele, 2009, 39). Unlike its predecessor scripts, Linear B has largely been deciphered. It has some signs that represent whole words (or objects to which words allude) and others that represent sounds or syllables. Record-makers who used Linear B were able to represent personal names, occupations, and place names, as well as a range of goods and commodities. But almost all surviving Linear B tablets are economical in their use of language. Despite the availability of signs that could identify the nature of transactions, these signs were not always used, and (like many early records from Mesopotamia) many records from second-millennium Aegean societies provide little or no indication of what was being done with the commodities they mention. Although Linear B tablets were often constructed with precise columnar formats and sign-groups written horizontally from left to right (Bennett, 1996, 126; Karagianni, 2015, 50), their content was not generally syntactical. Most record-makers inscribed only the minimum number of signs needed for the basic recording of a transaction; their aim was not to reflect spoken language, but to provide tools for the control of accounting within a small circle of people who were familiar with the nature of the transactions they administered. Mycenaean records often remain ambiguous to modern readers, but it is clear that most recorded the movement – expected or actual – of commodities, animals, or people, into or out of a palatial centre. For example, a tablet from Pylos studied by John Chadwick and Michael Ventris, who first deciphered the Linear B script, evidently recorded dues that were owed to the palace: At Pylos, due from Dunios … 13 measures of wine, 15 rams, … 1 ewe, 13 male goats, 12 pigs, … 1 cow, 2 bulls … (Ventris and Chadwick, 1973, 220) Other tablets recorded ration allotments, the assignment of horses and armour to warriors, and the allocation of bronze or copper to groups of smiths (Palaima, 2012, 360). In every case, the record appears to have been constructed for the purpose of accountancy.

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Many of the records mention agricultural products, but only those products whose movements were of direct concern to the palatial authorities, such as barley, flax, and oil. Products such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas are attested archaeologically but are not recorded in the surviving tablets, presumably because these crops were not centrally controlled (Schoep, 2002, 175). Everyday business relating to produce of this kind was almost certainly carried out orally, without creating written records. Nevertheless, the tablets demonstrate the existence of a multifaceted bureaucratic structure, centred on the palace and administered by palatial officials. Palaeographical analysis has distinguished the handwriting of a number of these officials and has shown that ‘tablets by the same hand … often treat related matters’ (Schoep, 2002, 167); it seems that the writers were not specialist scribes, but literate officials who personally recorded the business they conducted. Transmission of animals and goods to the palatial centre seems to have been a matter of obligation (modern scholars sometimes refer to it as ‘taxation’), and records were created to monitor the fulfilment of those obligations, as well as the despatch of commodities outward from the centre. Occasionally, Mycenaean record-makers were more ambitious in their use of language. Words from a much-discussed tablet found at Pylos can be literally translated as: Eritha priestess has swears-and etonijo to have for the god people-but-her says of-cultivable-lands of-communal land-grant to-have so-much seed grain 3 9/10. (Bennett, 1996, 130) This is said to be the longest ‘sentence’ known in Linear B (Bennett, 1996, 127), but – to a modern reader, at least – it appears to show the record-maker struggling to represent a meaningful idea using the limited range of options provided by Linear B writing. Abandoning attempts at a literal translation, the sentence has been tentatively understood to mean: ‘the priestess Eritha swears that she holds etonijo (tax-exempt) land for the god, but the people say that she has 3.9 measures of communal land’ (Bennett, 1996, 130; Karagianni, 2015, 39). Some scholars have seen this as a legal or quasi-legal record, but others have argued that it was created for accounting purposes in connection with the calculation of dues or taxes. Although we cannot be sure that legalistic matters were never recorded in writing in early Aegean societies, we have little evidence that records were used for legal purposes and no evidence that private ownership of land was legally recognized. The Mesopotamian and Egyptian practice of using writing to record land transfers and provide proof of title had no equivalent in the Aegean. The status of the land occupied by the priestess Eritha was evidently deemed to be a matter of what she and others said about it, not a matter that could be resolved by referring to written records of landholding.

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Sealings continued to be used by the Mycenaeans, although with less variety of form than in the Minoan era. Mycenaean sealings are usually threesided lumps of clay bearing seal impressions and, sometimes, Linear B inscriptions (Steele, 2009, 40). They probably accompanied commodities in transit, and scholars have argued that the inscribed sealings functioned as preliminary records of items delivered to a palatial centre, where the details recorded on the sealings were copied onto clay tablets (Karagianni, 2015, 40–1). The tablets did not carry seal impressions and do not seem to have travelled outside palatial centres; there is evidence, however, that palace officials used them as part of a further accounting process in which entries were again copied or summarized on tablets of a different shape (Palaima, 2012, 359–60). Both in Crete and in mainland Greece, palaces had central storage rooms where records were housed in wooden boxes (Palaima and Wright, 1985; Schoep, 2002, 25–6). At Knossos and Pylos, archaeologists found tablets in central storage areas and also in workshops dispersed around the palatial complex; at Pylos, the centrally-held records were often concerned with the general fulfilment of the palace’s requirements, while the workshop records focused on particular tasks (Palaima, 2003, 172–3, 187). In total, between 5000 and 6000 Linear B tablets have been discovered, including more than 1000 at Pylos (Steele, 2017b, 162; Tomas, 2013, 176). At every site where tablets have been found, they appear to have survived because the buildings in which they were located were destroyed by fire; the blaze hardened them and ensured their longevity. However, Mycenaean storage practices were not directed towards the long-term preservation of tablets; at each site, the surviving records seem to date from the last few months before the conflagration, and scholars have concluded that palace officials usually stored tablets for no more than a single accounting year before destroying them (Karagianni, 2015, 30–1). Some scholars believe that the processes of copying or summarizing records were extended to include a final stage in which data from tablets were transferred to papyrus or parchment for a longer period of retention, but no traces of papyrus or parchment documents have been found at Mycenaean sites and this hypothesis remains unproven (Perna, 2011). Written record-keeping practices using Linear B came to a sudden end when the palaces in Crete and the mainland were sacked in the final quarter of the second millennium. After the destruction of the palaces, literacy died out in the Aegean region (Finley, 1970, 63–6). People continued to live at places such as Mycenae, but the palatial structures were not rebuilt, and with the disappearance of a palace-centred culture the needs for, and the skills required to maintain, written records were also lost.

China Record-keeping in the Aegean was undoubtedly influenced by Mesopotamian and Egyptian practices, but questions of possible outside influences on early Chinese record-keeping remain unresolved; most scholars now incline to the

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view that developments in China were largely or wholly independent. As we saw in Chapter 1, the Chinese came to believe that, before the advent of writing, their ancestors had kept records using knotted cords. Chinese tradition associated this custom with Shennong, a legendary early emperor who is said to have lived about 5000 years ago (Martin, 1994, 19–20). Tradition also associated the use of knotted cords with an era when the Chinese ‘cut marks on wood … to record their days’ (Nugent, 2018, 176). It is evident that wooden tallies came to be used in China at an early date and that their use endured for a long time (Lao Kan, 1978), seemingly after knot records had ceased to be used there. The practice of creating two matching tallies – one for each party to a transaction – had been adopted in China by the first millennium BC, as a means of verifying transfers of goods (Tsang Wing Ma, 2017, 325–7). The earliest Chinese tallies were apparently used to record numbers or quantities, but their successors acquired a wider range of uses: as symbols of official authority, ‘passports’ for travellers, and certificates of exemption (Von Falkenhausen, 2005, 82–4, 91–2). The earliest known incised pottery vessels in China are about 7000 years old. Like the first marks on pottery from other parts of the world (see Chapter 2), the marks incised on early Chinese pots – and, a little later, on objects carved from jade – cannot be interpreted with any degree of exactness, but scholars have generally seen them as emblems of identity or ownership. As Sinologist and historian David Keightley (2014, 236) noted, such marks, ‘whatever their precise meaning, presumably indicated this is the pot belonging to, made by, to be used for, so-and-so or such-and-such’. Researchers in China have sometimes claimed that marks of this kind constituted writing, or were immediate precursors of writing, but these claims remain highly contentious. Scholars who adopt a more cautious approach have suggested that some of the marks could have been used in simple administrative recording tasks without necessarily possessing the capacities of written script (Boltz, 2000–1, 2–3; Demattè, 2010, 226). About 800 years ago, the Chinese believed that their ancestors had used numerals before any other elements of language were inscribed (Yushu Gong, 2010, 116). Numerical signs were undoubtedly in use in China in the late second millennium BC, and some scholars have sought to interpret certain marks on earlier Chinese pottery – even on pottery from as long ago as the fifth millennium – as numerals (Wei Lu and Aiken, 2004, 42–6). These interpretations, however, are also fiercely disputed. Other scholars (Cheng Te-k’un, 1983, 169; Yushu Gong, 2010, 122) have argued that second-millennium Chinese numerical signs resemble counters or knotted cords, and have linked the origins of these signs directly to pre-literate counting and recording practices. Like the earliest undoubted numerals in China, the earliest Chinese characters whose status as writing is undisputed date from the late second millennium; they are found on records of royal divination procedures. The writing system used to create these records employs several thousand characters and permits the encoding of full sentences; it seems to be fully developed, and scholars have often

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thought that it must have had less complex precursors. Some researchers have postulated that a more limited range of written characters arose during the middle years of the second millennium, if not earlier, to serve record-keeping purposes (Bagley, 2004, 235–6; Wang Haicheng, 2014, 177–9). But evidence of writing before the latter part of the millennium is scarce; the material that has been discovered is fragmentary and consists largely of isolated characters, from which firm conclusions cannot be drawn. The apparent link between divination procedures and fully developed writing has no close parallels outside China. When kings or other members of a Chinese royal court needed to make decisions about journeys or military actions, or when they were anxious about dreams or illnesses, their custom was to use divination techniques to communicate with ancestral spirits and seek a prediction about the future. This was done by applying heat to a bone of an ox or other animal; the heat produced cracks in the bone, and these cracks were interpreted as the spirits’ response to the matter in question. This method of divination was first practised in eastern Asia more than 5000 years ago, but its use intensified in late-secondmillennium China under the Shang dynasty. Divinations seem to have taken place on an almost daily basis in the Shang royal court, where turtle shells were used as well as ox bones (Keightley, 1985, 3–5; Smith, 2014, 121–2). In a remarkable innovation, about 1200 BC, the bones and shells began to be inscribed with written texts recording the divinatory process in which they had been used. Each written record provided a date and a statement of the event or proposed course of action that had been evaluated. Some records of divinations performed by the king included a note of the outcome, indicating that the king was correct in his prognostication (Keightley, 1985, 42–3; Smith, 2014, 122–3). It seems clear that these inscriptions were not intended as prayers or messages to the spirits. When a bone or shell was inscribed, the divination ritual had already taken place, and the inscription recorded actions that were complete. It has been suggested that diviners may have needed records as a means of determining auspicious dates for future acts of divination (Bagley, 2004, 234), but the precise reasons for making the records remain a matter of speculation. The sudden appearance of fully developed writing capabilities in a divinatory setting has puzzled many scholars, and it has frequently been suggested that these capabilities are unlikely to have been developed simply to meet the needs of diviners and that writing in Shang China must have served further purposes. However, only limited evidence of non-divinatory writing survives from the Shang era. Very occasionally, inscriptions record sacrifices or hunting expeditions. As archaeologist and art historian Robert Bagley explained: a few inscriptions carved on bone or shell are not divinations. A bone from the foreleg of a tiger bears the following text …: ‘On the day xinyou the king hunted on the slopes of Mount Ji and caught a large and ferocious tiger. It was the tenth month in the king’s third year …’. The bone

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is evidently a trophy of a royal exploit, and the king’s proud inscription … [is] concerned to fix the event in time …. Three more inscriptions occasioned by royal hunts are known. (Bagley, 2004, 213) Another text on bone, although only partly preserved, mentions a military campaign and provides a detailed list of the booty that was captured (TsuenHsuin Tsien, 2004, 38). Apart from bones and shells, and a few enigmatic inscriptions on pottery, jade, and stone, our only other knowledge of Chinese writing at this period comes from inscribed bronze vessels used by members of the elite for making offerings to their ancestors. Some of these are inscribed with a personal name: presumably the name of the person who commissioned the vessel or the ancestor whose offerings were to be placed inside it. A few have longer texts, typically stating that ‘on a particular day and month, in a specific year of the king’s reign, Person A gave certain valuable items to Person B, and B made this vessel for Ancestor C’ (Bagley, 2004, 208–12; Cook and Goldin, 2016, xi–xii, xxv, xlix). Although their context is not ostensibly administrative, inscriptions of this kind can easily be understood as records that associate events with dates. Like the tiger-bone inscription, they demonstrate that writers in Shang China had the capacity to construct full sentences in writing: a capacity that could certainly have supported the recording of many aspects of state administration. Several modern scholars have argued that, even if divination activities and dedications to ancestors were the only matters regularly recorded on durable bone, shell, or bronze, other kinds of activity were almost certainly recorded on less resilient media that are now lost. Some divination records written on bones or shells include a character identified as 册 (ce); often translated into English as ‘document’, this character is usually thought to depict strips of bamboo tied with a string (Boltz, 1999, 107), and scholars have often believed that documents written on bamboo must have been employed in the Shang royal court to record a range of administrative business. Because bamboo is a perishable medium and no documents on bamboo survive from this period, this belief cannot be verified. But some bone and shell divination records have marginal annotations recording requisitions and deliveries of new bones or shells (Bagley, 2004, 214), and on the basis of these annotations it has sometimes been thought that writing was used more widely to create accounting records for the Shang kings. In the closing years of the second millennium BC, the Shang dynasty was displaced by the Zhou. Extant texts from the early part of the Zhou era have more varied content than their Shang antecedents, and they have been found at a wider range of sites, but it remains the case that only texts written on durable materials have survived to the present day. Most surviving writings from early-first-millennium China are inscriptions on bronze vessels; like their

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second-millennium predecessors, they are predominantly concerned with the circumstances in which the vessels were made and dedicated. In many cases, an inscription records that a vessel was dedicated to an ancestor following a grant of privileges or an appointment to high office, which took place in a formal ceremony at the royal court; the inscribed vessel was commissioned by or for the grantee or appointee, who then used it to make offerings to his deceased ancestors (Kern, 2007, 141). Some of the inscriptions also quote extracts from more detailed ‘documents of bestowal’ or ‘documents of royal command’ that were used during the ceremonies. More than 100 bronze inscriptions from this period refer to appointments to offices; their allusions to ‘documents of royal command’ hint at the extent of administrative record-making in China a little under 3000 years ago. The originals of these documents – which were almost certainly written on bamboo – have not survived, but the regularity with which they are mentioned has led scholars to argue that the making and keeping of written records in connection with official appointments must have been common practice (Bagley, 2004, 210–11; Kern, 2007, 140–1; Li Feng, 2011, 274–6). References to ‘scribes’ and ‘makers of documents’ are frequent in bronze inscriptions of this period (Cook and Goldin, 2016, 42, 181). Other bronze vessels from the Zhou era bear inscriptions stating that the vessel was dedicated following a grant of land to a member of the elite, or following the resolution of a dispute about land tenure. An inscription on a cauldron cast in 913 BC records a successful complaint made by Qiu Wei against Li, who had failed to surrender the fields he had sold. In an abbreviated translation, the inscription states that: It was the first month …. [Qiu] Wei made a petition, … saying: ‘Li said, “I relinquish to you five fields”.’ Officials then interrogated Li, asking: ‘Did you sell the fields or not?’ Li then admitted this, saying: ‘I sold all five fields.’ Jing Bo, Bo Yifu, Ding Bo, Liang Bo, and Bo Sufu … made Li swear an oath …. Si Zou paced off Qiu Wei’s … fields …. Li gave his fields to Qiu Wei …. Wei herewith makes for [his] cultured father this precious cauldron. May I, Wei, … forever treasure and use it. It was during the king’s fifth ritual cycle. (Cook and Goldin, 2016, 89–90) Inscriptions such as this illustrate the kind of recording capabilities that were available in early Zhou China. But the officials investigating the complaint seem to have had no expectation of examining a written record of Li’s sale of the five fields; they asked Li only for verbal confirmation. The oldest surviving Chinese documents on bamboo or wood were written between 2000 and 2500 years ago and reflect a culture where the routine use of writing for administrative and legal purposes had become well-established. Among the earliest survivals are bamboo documents associated with a man

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named Shao Tuo, a high official of the Chu state in southern China, who had particular responsibilities for the administration of civil and criminal law. The documents date from 322 to 316 BC and include summaries of legal cases, records of the dates on which cases were handled or expected to be handled, records of loans made by officials, and orders for updating population registers (Weld, 1999). Finds from other parts of China demonstrate that, as new regimes acquired power in the years that followed, many detailed records of government business were created. Written reports and requests for decision-making were forwarded from lower-level officials to their superiors, and written orders were transmitted from central authorities to local administrators. The higher-level authorities also sent templates to remind their subordinates of the correct form in which records should be created, and a courier service was used for transporting records, which were annotated with the dates of their despatch and arrival (Yates, 2012–13). Rules or guidelines were issued for keeping accounts and for making records of loans and receipts of goods (Lewis, 1999, 21–2; Tsang Wing Ma, 2017, 317; Xiuzhen Li et al., 2016, 180). Among the records that survive are reports of steps taken to reclaim debts, registers of fines imposed on officials, records of rewards given to individuals who arrested lawbreakers, and records of the issue of rations and supplies (Loewe, 2004, 48; Yates, 2012–13, 310–13). By the time of the Han dynasty (206 BC – AD 220), the use of written records extended from the imperial palace at Chang’an to remote military outposts on the frontier in Inner Mongolia (Fölster, 2018, 218–19; Nylan, 2005, 3). The processes of change through which this density of record-making and record-keeping became established cannot be reconstructed in any detail; the evidence that would be needed to attempt such a reconstruction is lacking. But it is certain that, even before the Han dynasty came to power, the making and keeping of written records had become pervasive in China, at least for the purposes of government bureaucracy. Scribes, trained at a scribal school, were supported by large numbers of clerks who undertook basic recordkeeping tasks (Tsang Wing Ma, 2017; Yates, 2014, 144–5). People who claimed rights to the labour of others could be expected to proffer a written record as evidence of their entitlement (Weld, 1999, 87). The strength of the record-keeping culture in China at this period is perhaps best illustrated by the detailed population registers – used to calculate tax and compulsory labour liabilities – that were maintained in each locality. An entry in a register was made for every household, listing the names of the householder, other members of the family, and slaves, together with the rank in society held by the householder and any sons; steps were regularly taken to ensure that all individuals were recorded (Barbieri-Low and Yates, 2015, 784–5; Weld, 1999, 85–6). As Sinologists Anthony Barbieri-Low and Robin Yates (2015, 783) observed, ‘monitoring the number … and location of tens of millions of subjects required … elaborate system[s] of written record keeping’. Despite the many

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gaps in our knowledge of how these systems developed and operated, there can be no doubt that, more than two millennia ago, Chinese society and the Chinese imperial economy were controlled and regulated by record-based bureaucracies.

Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica Record-making and record-keeping practices also developed independently among peoples in the Americas, in the centuries before the incursion of the Spanish and the devastating event that chronicler and former soldier Bernal Díaz del Castillo called their ‘daring entry into the great city of Tenochtitlan Mexico on the 8th day of November … 1519’ (Carrasco, 2008, 161). In Mesoamerica, the earliest records may have taken the form of tallies that expressed numerical values by means of marks incised or painted on a surface. Although little evidence survives from early periods, scholars have detected legacies of an early use of tallies in later Mesoamerican systems that represented numbers using dots and bars: in these later systems, a single dot represented ‘1’ and a bar represented ‘5’, while ‘7’, for example, was represented by a bar and two dots (Justeson, 1986, 440). Early tallies may have used only clusters of dots (Sedat, 1992, 83–4). Although the dot-and-bar system was subsequently extended to embrace larger numbers, in its basic form it was used only to express numbers from 1 to 19, together with a symbol for zero; it perhaps originally developed from methods of counting using human fingers and toes. Although almost all known examples of these numerals have been found in association with writing – or with symbols that have been identified as precursors of writing – it seems very likely that the numbering systems antedated the use of writing in Mesoamerica. The beginnings of Mesoamerican writing are often associated with the Olmec people, who lived in what are now the Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco, and it is generally thought that its origins were iconographic. According to linguistic anthropologist John Justeson (1986, 442), ‘precursors to writing appear by c.1100 BC in Olmec-style iconography’. The question of whether writing fully emerged in Olmec society remains a matter of scholarly dispute, but it is generally agreed that a preexisting system of numeration came to be used in conjunction with other symbols, particularly symbols indicating units of time (Justeson, 1986, 444–5; Sedat, 1992, 84). The earliest undisputed Mesoamerican writing is associated with the Zapotec people, who lived to the south of the area occupied by the Olmec. The first known examples of the Zapotec script are about 2500 years old. Although some of the signs are understood, the script has not been fully deciphered by modern scholars. Early Zapotec writing is generally found alongside pictorial representations of human figures – especially captives – carved on stone monuments, and most examples appear to be captions

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naming the figure shown on the monument (Justeson, 2012, 831–2; Marcus, 2020). The most fully developed writing system of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica was that of the Maya peoples. According to archaeologist Nicholas Carter (2014b, 31), ‘indigenous Maya writing – the … most structurally complex in the Americas – was employed throughout the Maya Lowlands of present-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras … between about 300 BC and the late seventeenth century’. Maya script was highly pictorial; scholars have noted that it retained more pictographic components than early Chinese writing, but its expressive capacity can be compared to that of the Shang divination records (DeFrancis, 1989, 125; Houston, 2004, 351). It allowed nouns, verbs, and adverbs to be combined into sentences, and dates could also be represented in writing. About 15,000 Maya texts are known (Law, 2015, 164). Most are inscribed on monuments or public buildings and commemorate the dedication of the structures on which they are inscribed or the lives and achievements of the rulers with whom they are associated. Texts are also found on ceramic vessels used by members of the Maya elite for eating and drinking. These are often inscribed with the name of the owner and the name of the substance that the owner was accustomed to consume; a typical inscription can be translated as ‘K’an, holy lady of Tikal, her drinking vessel for her chocolate’ (Reents-Budet, 1994, 158). Like the pictorial scenes painted on these vessels, which sometimes show the owner of the vessel receiving captives or tribute, the inscriptions are intended to mark the owner’s status; they identify the owner as someone who has privileged access to a highly valued comestible. Texts inscribed on monuments or buildings were also intended to proclaim and reinforce prestige. Such texts were confined to palatial environments, and the people whose lives and achievements they commemorated were members of the ruling elite. The inscriptions seem to have been meant for public consumption (Law, 2015, 165), but because they functioned in contexts where few observers are likely to have been able to read them, scholars have suggested that the texts may have been used as points of departure for oral discourses; they perhaps operated as scripts or prompts for multisensory performances that used song or dance as well as recitation, as a means of celebrating a ruler’s achievements (Marcus, 1995, 326–7). Nevertheless, inscriptions on buildings or monuments could be precisely worded; for individuals with the ability to read them, they could serve as written records in their own right. At Yaxchilán in south-eastern Mexico, for example, an inscription on a doorway from the eighth century AD can be translated as: On 7 Imix 14 Tzec [a date in the Maya calendar], Jewelled Skull was captured; the captive of Bird Jaguar, Lord of Yaxchilán. (Coe et al., 1986, 120)

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At Piedras Negras in Guatemala, inscriptions on monuments commemorating the anniversary of the accession of K’inich Yo’nal Ahk, a Maya ruler, recorded – among other events – the birth of his wife, her presentation as the ruler’s betrothed, the birth of their daughter Juntahn, and the ruler’s gift of a carved bench to his wife, together with the exact dates when each of these events occurred (Carter, 2014a, 353). Although their primary purpose was not to provide historical documentation but to celebrate the ruler’s triumphs or perpetuate his reputation, texts of this kind can also be seen as records of assertions about events that took place at particular moments in time. If the Maya made written records of economic transactions, none have survived. Like other Mesoamerican economies, the Maya economy was based on tribute: the compulsory regular transmission of goods from vassal communities to the central power. Maya writing would certainly have been capable of recording these payments, and scenes painted on ceramic vessels appear to support suggestions that such recording took place. Several scenes show a ruler receiving bundles of tribute, and these bundles are sometimes accompanied by a numerical label indicating the quantity concerned (Law, 2015, 177). Some ceramics depict, or have been thought to depict, scribes or accountants in connection with scenes of tribute receipt (Coe and Kerr, 1997, 95; Schele and Miller, 1986, 144). If bundles of tribute were quantified and labelled, it is not unreasonable to suppose that written accounting records were made. Many scholars have argued that the Maya kept records of this kind, although all such records have now been lost (Law, 2015, 176–7; Smyth, 2016, 263). About a millennium ago, the main centres of literate production seem to have shifted westwards from the Maya lands to other parts of Mesoamerica. Maya scribes continued to use the Maya script, but elsewhere in Mesoamerica a different form of pictographic writing emerged. The new form of pictography came to be adopted by the Mixtec and Aztec peoples in central and southern Mexico. In the words of ethnohistorian Elizabeth Hill Boone, it ‘was as much a pictorial system as it was a script’; to an even greater extent than Maya writing, it blurred the boundaries between art and written text (Boone, 2017, 117; cf. Diel, 2012, 871). To the Aztecs, it was known as tlacuilolli, and its practitioners were called tlacuiloque, a word that can be translated either as ‘scribes’ or as ‘painters’ (Boone, 2017, 117–18). This pictorial script was used on a variety of media, including stone reliefs, frescoes, and decorated pottery, but the best-known examples are books made of deer hide or bark paper. Although modern scholars often speak of them as codices, these books did not have pages attached to a spine, but consisted of long strips that could be folded like a screen; they are sometimes referred to as ‘screenfolds’. Fewer than twenty painted screenfold books survive from pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, all dating from the last centuries before the region was conquered by the Spanish. Many more once existed, but most were systematically destroyed by the Spanish invaders. Some of the surviving books are concerned with

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astronomy and religious ritual. Others focus on mythical origins and the shaping of ancestral kingdoms; in these books, the predominant themes are the genealogies of past rulers, their rise to power, their wars and victories, and their dynastic alliances (Diel, 2012, 870). In the years before the Spanish invasion, officials of the Aztec empire also used pictographic script to make records of imperial revenues. Much of our knowledge of Aztec record-keeping comes, not from archaeological evidence or surviving Aztec documents, but from writings by Spaniards. In a letter of April 1522 to the king of Spain, the conquistador Hernán Cortés reported that the Aztec emperor Montezuma had ‘officials to collect the tributes which each province must pay’ and that these officials used pictographic characters to keep ‘an account of whatever each one was obliged to give’ (Pagden, 1986, 109). The writings of later Spanish chroniclers, although not always reliable or unbiased, provide useful supplementary details. In his Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España, written almost 50 years after the events it describes, Díaz del Castillo affirmed that Montezuma’s mayordomo, or steward, ‘kept the accounts of all the revenue that was brought to Montezuma, in his books which were made of paper’ (Carrasco, 2008, 169). Within the precinct of the imperial palace at Tenochtitlan was a house called calpixcacalli or taxancalli (Berdan and Anawalt, 1992, 223, 225); a few years after Díaz del Castillo, Franciscan missionary Bernardino de Sahagún wrote that Aztec officials customarily assembled at this house, each bringing an account of the tribute for which he was responsible (Brain, 2017, 52). All – or almost all – of these accounting records are now lost. Today, we have only a single book that might be an original record of tribute payments in Mexico before the arrival of the Spanish: a book of 32 large folios, now known as La matrícula de tributos, which sets out the amounts of tribute paid by a number of conquered provinces in the Aztec empire. Preserved in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City, its contents reflect the preHispanic economy, and most scholars think it is of pre-Hispanic date, although some disagree. Ethnohistorian Juan José Batalla Rosado (2007, 33) believes that it ‘was an official document in Tenochtitlan’s imperial administration’; if this is correct, it is the sole survivor from the Aztec imperial record-keeping system. After the fall of Montezuma’s empire, the Spanish authorities made attempts to discover how much tribute had been levied in pre-colonial times, and investigators were instructed to refer to ‘the paintings of the tributes’ (pre-colonial pictographic records of tribute collection) for the data that were sought (Baudot, 1995, 50). The present condition of La matrícula de tributos testifies to the Spanish use of pre-Hispanic records (Brain, 2017, 56), for it now bears annotations in alphabetic writing and it was re-bound in colonial times as a European-style book. Further information about pre-Hispanic records can be gathered from colonial-era descriptions and copies. More than a century after the Spanish

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conquest, the chronicler Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzmán wrote a detailed description of what appear to have been pre-colonial tribute records from El Salvador (Sampeck, 2015, 477–84). Part of Codex Mendoza, painted in the native style about twenty years after the conquest, is thought to have been copied from La matrícula and includes copies of entries now missing from the original (Batalla Rosado, 2007, 32–3; Berdan, 2019, 3–4). Another colonial-era document partly copied or derived from pre-colonial records is Codex Kingsborough, which includes lists of the tribute that the lord of Tepetlaoztoc received, or was entitled to receive, from his vassals before the Spanish conquest; like Codex Mendoza, it is constructed in the native tradition (Boone, 1998, 169–73). It is not always clear whether lists of this kind indicate expectations or actual payments. In some cases, the quantities recorded were almost certainly the amounts of tribute to which the ruler claimed entitlement, rather than payments made or received on a specific date. For evidence of records of actual payments, we can look to Codex Humboldt Fragmento 1 and Codex Azoyú 2, two fragments of what was once a single document. Although this document seems to have been written more than four decades after the arrival of the Spanish, it sets out the tribute that the province of Tlapa in southern Mexico paid over a period of 36 years before the Spanish conquest. Using symbols arranged in columns and rows, it records the dates on which payments were made, the articles that were yielded, and the quantities of each article (Gutiérrez et al., 2009). These details were presumably derived from original records – now lost – that had been made at the times when the payments were surrendered. Aztec officials also kept records relating to land and its occupation. In precolonial Mesoamerica, small tracts of land were occupied by non-elite families and could apparently be reassigned to other families as the need arose (Trigger, 2003, 316–17). In contrast to developments in early Mesopotamia and Egypt, land could not be bought or sold, and there were no records of conveyancing transactions; instead, records were made to document occupancy. Several decades after the Spanish conquest, the chronicler Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxóchitl wrote that there were tlacuiloque specializing in ‘paintings of districts, boundaries, and borders of cities, provinces, towns, and villages, as well as the parcelling out and distribution of land’ (Kagan, 2000, 48). Writing a little earlier, Alonso de Zorita, who had been a judge in Mexico in the 1550s and 1560s, noted the existence of ‘pictures on which are shown all the parcels, and the boundaries, … and who cultivates what field, and what land each one has’ (Keen, 1963, 110). Associated with these pictographic records of land occupation were census records; at about the same time as Zorita was writing, the Dominican friar Diego Durán observed that the census had been ‘set down painstakingly and carefully’ in ‘painted documents’ in Aztec times (Horcasitas and Heyden, 1971, 396). No pre-conquest land or census records survive, but two ‘painted documents’ dating from about 25 years after the conquest allow us some insight into their probable content and structure. In the census sections of

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these documents, each householder is indicated by a rough depiction of a human head next to a rough depiction of a house; further heads indicate spouses and children; age, gender, and marital status are also noted. In the sections recording land occupancy, the shapes and sizes of fields are drawn, and the occupier of each field is named (Boone, 1998, 174–6). The documents display little artistic finesse but are remarkably detailed. These documents may also help us resolve what would otherwise be one of the more puzzling questions about Mesoamerican record-making. In an unfinished Spanish chronicle, Francisco Cervantes de Salazar noted that guardians of granaries received and expended grain or bread ‘with the aid of painted books, in which there was such order that it was marvellous’ (De Rojas, 2016, 297). But it is difficult to imagine that regular receipts and expenditures of this kind could have been recorded using the elaborate methods employed in La matrícula de tributos or Codex Mendoza. These are finely painted works of art, and – as art historian Manuel Aguilar-Moreno (2007, 262) observed – the goal of the scribes who constructed them ‘was not speed … or efficiency, but ornateness and beauty’. Such goals seem ill-matched to the day-to-day recording of goods entering and leaving a storehouse; but the post-conquest land and census documents demonstrate that record-making in Mesoamerica need not always have been so laborious. The land and census records appear to have been kept locally by individual communities, where they were probably used to calculate the tribute liabilities of each household. According to Spanish historian Francisco López de Gómara, every locality ‘had its tribute collector … who … listed the goods and numbers of people in … his district’ (Simpson, 1966, 155). Local tribute collectors reported to one of seven provincial collectors, who were in turn responsible to a paramount administrator presumably residing in Tenochtitlan (Berdan et al., 1996, 41–2). It seems likely that records were made at each point in the chain, with local collectors using simple techniques and senior officials commissioning more ornate records at higher levels of administration.

The Inka realm Before its conquest by the Spanish in the 1530s, the Inka empire in South America extended along the Andes mountains and the adjoining seaboard, from modern Ecuador and Peru to northern Chile. Its records took a very different material form from those of the other societies discussed in this chapter. Across the Andean region, records were created using a complex knotted-cord device known as a khipu. Inka khipus were much more intricate than the simple knot records described in Chapter 1. A khipu had numerous pendant cords of coloured cotton or wool attached to a primary cord, which could be several metres in length. Each cord was composed of a number of strings plied together; the pendant cords sometimes had further subsidiary cords, arranged in branchlike structures and also bearing a variety of knots.

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Commentaries written after the Spanish conquest affirm that khipus were used to record censuses, assessments and assignments of labour tribute, and measurements of land and resources (Urton, 2018, 601–3). The making and keeping of a khipu was the responsibility of an official known as a khipukamayuq; every community, however small, had at least four of these officials, and it has been estimated that there were several thousands of them across the Inka empire (Given-Wilson, 2016, 92). A drawing made in Peru after the conquest shows a khipukamayuq displaying a khipu to an Inka ruler in a setting surrounded by storehouses, and it is evident that khipus were also used to track the flow of goods to and from storage (Urton and Chu, 2015). Native Andeans continued to use khipus after the Spanish invasion. Today, more than 900 khipus from the Inka period and later are held in museums (Medrano and Urton, 2018, 2), but these are only a small fraction of the numbers that must once have existed. Although khipu use eventually declined in most parts of the region under Spanish rule, it persisted for many centuries in isolated rural areas. Simple forms of khipu were used by animal herders in remote parts of Peru and Bolivia in very recent times, and more complex khipus survive today in several villages in the Andes where they were used for local administration until the twentieth century (Hyland, 2017b, 412). The khipus preserved in these villages are distant descendants of the khipus that were used on a much larger scale by the administrators of the Inka realm. Khipus were not used in calculating. According to anthropologist Gary Urton (2018, 607–8), Inka administrators employed an abacus to perform calculations and recorded the totals on a khipu when calculating was complete. To record numbers, they made different kinds of knots in different locations on the khipu cord. Andeans had employed khipus, or devices closely resembling khipus, long before the Inka era, but the first khipus used only simple forms of knot; like early tallies and the early token systems in Mesopotamia, the earliest khipus seem to have depended on one-to-one correspondence, using single knots to designate single objects. In Inka times, more complex methods were employed. So-called ‘figure-of-eight’ knots were used to denote numbers from 1 to 9; other kinds of knot denoted tens, hundreds, and thousands, and the knots were arranged hierarchically, so that the location of the knot on the cord indicated the order of magnitude (Topic, 2016, 136–7; Urton, 2014, 216; cf. Urton, 2018, 606). As well as recording quantities, khipus could specify the categories of people or things that were quantified, and they are often thought to have had other advanced recording capabilities. However, although scholars are confident that they understand how to read numbers on a khipu, there is considerable uncertainty about how, and how far, khipu-makers were able to encode non-numerical data. Even in Peruvian villages where khipus were in recent use, today’s villagers do not know the precise encoding methods used by their predecessors.

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Most khipus are colourful – either because they were constructed using differently coloured fibres or animal hairs or because their cords were dyed – and scholars acknowledge that different colours and colour combinations conveyed non-numerical meaning (Urton, 2018, 606). Other meaningful features are thought to have included the positioning of the cords, the material of which each cord was composed, the thickness of the cord and its component strings, the way in which the strings were plied together to form the cord, and the direction in which the knots were tied. Although the precise meanings of these features remain matters of debate, the general principles of Inka khipu construction appear to be confirmed by commentaries written by Spanish observers in colonial times. Three-quarters of a century after the Spanish conquest, the chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega noted that census khipus used different strings to denote people of different ages, with finer threads to indicate widows and widowers; according to a later colonial writer, Bernabé Cobo, the census khipus distinguished males from females, and adults from youths and children (Assadourian, 2002, 123; Urton, 2010, 61). Garcilaso also affirmed that, when the counting of herds was recorded, differently coloured threads were used to indicate the colours of the animals, with each species recorded separately. When khipus were used to record tribute payments, Garcilaso said, items not denoted by colours were arranged in an order ‘beginning with the most important and proceeding to the least’ (Urton, 2010, 60). Spanish writers also made statements about the supposed meanings of particular colours. One chronicler claimed that yellow was used to record gold, and white to record silver. Another reported that a knot crossed by fine crimson thread had signified the person of the Inka king (Assadourian, 2002, 124, 129). However, the statements made by colonial writers are sometimes inconsistent: in 1590 Martín de Murúa claimed that black cords signified warriors who had died, but 50 years later Antonio de la Calancha wrote that dead soldiers were marked by red strings (Assadourian, 2002, 129; Urton, 2010, 60). Although Spanish commentators may have correctly described the general principles of khipu-making, their accounts of detail cannot be relied on; recent scholarship suggests that they often misunderstood, or perhaps were misled by, their Andean informants (Salomon, 2008, 288). In recent years, researchers have attempted to find other evidence that might confirm the kinds of activities that were recorded on khipus and the methods used to record them. Although native Andean knowledge of how khipus were used in the past is now largely lost, a few memories have survived in remote villages. For example, a Peruvian country-dweller interviewed by American anthropologist Frank Salomon in 1999/2000 believed that colours indicated a khipu’s functional content; he used his awareness of khipu-based as well as paper-based records to explain that khipus operated ‘as if one were keeping accounts of pasturage on paper of darker color and other things on papers of lighter colors’ (Salomon, 2004, 217). Researchers have garnered

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further information by inspecting surviving khipus and examining notes made by anthropologists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when khipus were still in occasional use in the Andes. Investigations of khipu use by herders in nineteenth-century Bolivia have shown that cords tied with differently coloured threads could be used (at least in this late period) to indicate different kinds of animals, that the direction of ply (the way in which the strings comprising a single cord were twisted together) could correspond to the gender of animals, and that gender could also be denoted by the positioning of one cord in relation to another (Hyland, 2014). Other studies have shown that, in some Peruvian villages in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, khipus – or so-called ‘khipu boards’, wooden boards incorporating khipu cords alongside alphabetic writing – were used to record contributions to communal tasks and obligations (Hyland, 2016; Hyland et al., 2014). On a ‘khipu board’, the names of villagers were written alphabetically, but cords were used to record the villagers’ fulfilment of their obligations. It is much less certain how far khipus – of any date – without alphabetic writing may have been able to represent the names of regions, places, kinship groups, or persons. In 1638, Antonio de la Calancha claimed that administrative provinces could be indicated on khipus because ‘each province had a different mixture of colours’ (Assadourian, 2002, 129), and we can be fairly certain that, in a khipu recording labour contributions by different kinship groups in a Peruvian village in the early twentieth century, differently coloured cords distinguished the labour supplied by each group (Hyland, 2016, 495). Some researchers have explored the possibility that personal names could be encoded on khipus (Medrano and Urton, 2018, 18–19), but at present this remains unproven. Scholars are also uncertain how far the later use of khipus reflects older practices going back to Inka times. However, investigations of late khipu record-keeping have tended to corroborate much of the broad outline, if not the detail, given in colonial-era descriptions. In two Peruvian villages whose early-twentieth-century khipus have been studied, it appears that the villagers’ usual practice was to untie the knots at the end of each year so that the cords could be reused for the new year’s accounts (Hyland, 2016, 496–7; Salomon, 2004, 178); this implies that (in these late examples of khipu use) variables were indicated by knotting, while the cord materials referred to entities that remained invariable from year to year. It seems unlikely that Andeans of former generations read their khipus in the same way that scripts are read, using visual modes of cognition to identify signs with specific meanings. According to anthropologist Sabine Hyland (2015, 6–7; 2017a), significant aspects of khipus – such as the fibre from which each cord was made – can sometimes be identified only by touching the cords, and other features such as knot direction can also be understood by feel; arguably, senses of touch were as important as sight in interpreting a khipu.

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Other researchers (Medrano and Urton, 2018, 4) have suggested that membership of ‘moieties’ (Andean social groups) may have been represented by knot direction on some khipus and by cord attachment (the way in which pendant cords are attached to a primary cord) on others, depending on local context. A herder who showed a khipu to a nineteenth-century anthropologist indicated that the direction of ‘final ply’ (the most visible direction of the strings twisted together to make a cord) could refer either to the gender of cows or to their milking status; the meaning attributed to this feature of the cord was apparently determined by the position of the cord within the khipu as a whole (Hyland, 2014, 645–6). These findings raise the question of whether, and how far, khipus could be read by anyone other than their makers. In 1653, Bernabé Cobo claimed that each khipukamayuq could understand only his own khipus (Given-Wilson, 2016, 92). However, most scholars are now convinced that Cobo was wrong and that khipus in Inka times – at least when used at higher levels of bureaucracy – employed conventions that could be understood more widely (Urton, 2010, 64–5). As Gary Urton and Carrie Brezine (2011, 344) observed, ‘stylistic peculiarities’ may have developed locally, but state administrators probably demanded that khipus were constructed in a standardized manner. The Inka state employed rigorous procedures to manage the levying of tribute – in the form of compulsory labour – from its subjects. According to Urton and Brezine: accountants assessed tribute levels and assigned tasks to different numbers of local workers …. At the local level, tributaries were grouped into five accounting units of ten members each …. Five such groupings would make a unit of fifty tribute payers …. Two groups of fifty would be combined into a unit of one hundred tributaries … and so on up the hierarchy. (Urton and Brezine, 2007, 359–60) Accounting mechanisms operated throughout this hierarchy of administration, which led eventually to senior officials directly responsible to the Inka king. Khipu records appear to have played a key role in these mechanisms, encoding data that ascended or descended through the different levels of the hierarchy. If the interpretation proposed by Urton and Brezine is correct, the labour demands of the higher administration were passed downwards to officials at a lower level, who split them into a number of smaller demands, each of which was then passed to subordinates at a further lower level; this process was repeated until it reached the bottom of the hierarchy, the level at which individual labour tasks were performed. Alternatively, or additionally, khipu records accounting for the performance of the required tasks were passed upwards through the hierarchy, with the accounts being summarized at each level (Urton, 2010, 58–9; Urton and Brezine, 2007, 362). The hierarchical

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transmission of khipu records offers further support to scholarly conviction that Inka khipus must have employed conventions that were comprehensible to different users. Scholars have sometimes sought to argue that khipus might have been capable of encoding certain kinds of narrative text. Some colonial chroniclers affirmed that couriers in the Inka realm carried khipus as letters (Conklin, 2002, 54–5), and others claimed that penal laws, judicial decisions, and even historical annals could be represented on a khipu (Given-Wilson, 2016, 91–3; Assadourian, 2002, 125–6). But no narrative khipus from the Inka era are known to exist. If a khipu ‘letter’ was, in effect, a list of quantified demands (‘Send 100 workers to move the harvest’), there seems little reason to doubt that its content could have been encoded in the khipu. But more complex narrative messages are unlikely to have been fully encodable, and if khipus were employed in transmitting such messages it must be assumed that the courier who carried the khipu memorized the message and used the khipu as a cue to assist recall. It remains uncertain how far Inka khipus may have been used for other narrative purposes. Garcilaso de la Vega remarked that ‘the contents of … speeches … could not be recorded’, because ‘continuous spoken or written prose … cannot be expressed by means of knots’ (Assadourian, 2002, 121). Instead, Garcilaso said, ‘signs’ were used to indicate speeches and other narratives; the words of the speeches, or summaries of them, were committed to memory. Scholars have sometimes used Garcilaso’s words as evidence that khipus could be employed as reminders or memory aids for transmission of historical knowledge. Some khipus bear knots that do not seem to represent quantitative values, and scholars have suggested that two kinds of khipu might have been in use: most were quantitative records, but some perhaps served as prompts for recitation of laws, myths, or histories (Assadourian, 2002, 122–3; Urton, 2010, 55). Cobo’s claim that khipus were readable only by their makers may have been correct where historical recitations were concerned; the creativity implicit in such recitations would certainly give ample scope for individual interpretation. But the attention of Spanish commentators was generally drawn, not to the idiosyncrasy of khipus, but to their preciseness of representation, their significance in government, and the safeguards against fraud that they provided. The conquistador Pedro de Cieza de León, for example, observed that khipu accounting was so exact that even a pair of sandals did not go missing (Given-Wilson, 2016, 90). Khipus could be duplicated, and Garcilaso de la Vega reported that the governor of each Inka province was required to keep a copy of khipu accounts as a precaution against deception on the part of tribute payers or collectors (Urton and Brezine, 2007, 360). Quantitative khipus possessed recording capabilities at least as great as those of Mesopotamian proto-cuneiform script (Chrisomalis, 2010, 314), and khipu recordkeeping played a central role in the administrative control procedures of the Inka state.

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Although some khipus may have been used to aid recall and transmission of generalized cultural knowledge, most were precisely detailed quantitative records that served to underpin the economic and political power of the state. As Urton explained: knotted-cord-toting … officials … exercised the greatest force in formalizing and maintaining Inka power throughout the Andes. They did this by … categorizing, naming, counting, and recording statistics in knots and colors. In the performance of these acts, … the cadres of officials … sustained … the administrative machinery at the heart of the Inka empire. (Urton, 2018, 620)

Records, states, and elites The societies discussed in Chapters 3 and 4 of this book have all been described by historians as states (or emerging states). They are characterized by social stratification, division of labour, the appropriation of resources by ruling elites, and the introduction or intensification of systems of control. In most of these societies, populations grew rapidly and cities were established; temples and palaces were built in the new cities, and gods and temples were identified with regimes of authority. These phenomena emerged in Mesopotamia over 5000 years ago, and at later dates in China, Mesoamerica, and Inka Peru. Early Egypt and Minoan Crete had towns rather than large cities and perhaps should not be described as urbanized, but scholars who study these societies have usually argued that their social structures and modes of operation were broadly comparable to those in the city-states of Mesopotamia. Record-keeping was not invented in urban states; it was practised in earlier agricultural societies. It is possible – although the suggestion must remain tentative – that, in every part of the world where agricultural economies were introduced before states were formed, people had begun to keep simple nonwritten records when agriculture was adopted, or perhaps even earlier. But emerging states needed more powerful control mechanisms as they made the transition from small-scale to more complex societies. The leaders of these states found that management of the state economy demanded more knowledge of the production and movement of resources than older methods of record-keeping could provide. To co-ordinate an expanding range of activities, and to monitor the workforce that performed these activities, more sophisticated techniques were required. In most of the societies discussed here, the emergence of writing and its adoption for record-keeping purposes provided the capacity that was needed. The Inka empire – sometimes described as a ‘civilization without writing’ (Ellison, 1964) – has often been seen as an exceptional case, but the Inka developed the use of knotted cords to a point where khipus could supply most, or perhaps all, of the capabilities that early forms of writing and

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numerical notation provided in other states. In recent years, some scholars have proposed re-definitions of ‘writing’ that would include khipus; in the present book, the inclusion of khipus in a chapter entitled ‘Records and writing …’ perhaps points in the same direction. Proposals of this kind have sought to give equal weight to khipus and to other systems of representation, but unsurprisingly they have often proved controversial.2 Another area of scholarly dispute relates to the evolutionary relationship of states and new forms of record-keeping. Is the ability to make and keep detailed records a precondition for the emergence of complex societies, as some scholars have argued (Basu and Waymire, 2006, 202)? Or do written records ‘depend for their existence … on the … degree of uniformity and control’ that those societies provide, as others have suggested (Law et al., 2015, 225)? These are not mutually exclusive possibilities, and both questions should probably be answered in the affirmative. States and innovative recording technologies co-evolved: each provided conditions aiding the development of the other. In some of the societies where writing first emerged, its early functions were not confined to administrative recording; it was used in connection with astronomical observation or public display of state propaganda.3 In Mesopotamia, however, for about 500 years after the invention of proto-cuneiform, writing was used almost exclusively for making records. Written records eventually gave Mesopotamian rulers control over almost every aspect of the economy: craft, unskilled labour, land, food, and the production and distribution of raw materials and manufactured products. The uses of records in other urbanizing societies were broadly similar: they helped rulers to manage growing populations and maintain political supremacy by means of economic control. In the Aztec and Inka empires, records allowed state institutions to administer the tribute demanded by the imperial centre. In China, there is no evidence to show whether records were used in a similar manner under the Shang and early Zhou dynasties, but by the beginning of the Han dynasty the state was using records on a large scale to regulate the conscription of individuals for compulsory labour. Besides facilitating state control of manual workers, their labour, and their produce, new forms of recording gave rise to new classes of workers: scribes and administrators who were neither manual labourers nor members of the highest rank of the elite. Even if a ruler or an elite official was non-literate, a scribe (or a khipukamayuq) was able to record the outputs of artisans, the availability of labourers, or the receipt of tribute on the ruler’s behalf. Records also played a role in accountability. In Mesopotamia, the making and keeping of written records meant that individuals of lower rank could be held accountable to senior administrators for the goods they were obliged to supply or the tasks they undertook. Similarly, khipu record-keeping in the Inka empire has been interpreted as enabling proof of fulfilment of official duties (Law et al., 2015, 214); the upward transmission of records through a

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bureaucratic hierarchy provided the evidence needed for accountability at each level of administration. Accountability functions are less immediately apparent in early Chinese record-keeping, but suggestions have been made that the divination records of the Shang era were perhaps intended to manifest human accountability to the gods or divine spirits (Law et al., 2015, 216–17). In later China, as elsewhere, records served purposes that seem more secular: they were control instruments that allowed people in authority to monitor and audit the performance of obligations by those of lesser status. Although both the construction and the content of records varied according to local circumstances, records were deployed to similar effect in all the societies discussed in Chapters 3 and 4. In every case, written record-keeping systems, or record-keeping systems with capabilities comparable to those afforded by writing, enabled state institutions or ruling groups to consolidate their influence and coerce manual workers through the use of formal accounting mechanisms. Nowhere was the initial development of written records driven by the needs of private individuals. Although literate individuals in some societies used writing at a fairly early date to label valuable utensils or ritual objects, it seems clear that, wherever written record-keeping was introduced, its primary drivers were the requirements of institutions or rulers. In Mesopotamia and Crete, the first written records underpinned the growing power of temples or palaces; in Mycenaean Greece, writing was used exclusively by officials controlling labour and commodities; in Shang China, written records seem to have been confined to the royal court. Similar forces were at work in Inka Peru, where the essential function of khipu recordkeeping was to serve the interests of the state. The limited evidence surviving from early Egypt and from the Aztec empire also suggests that record-keeping was focused on the demands of those in positions of authority. Everywhere, the creators of the earliest written records are anonymous; they acted, not as autonomous individuals, but as agents of a powerful central administration. Over time, however, it is likely that junior administrators or officials at local level came to recognize that administrative records could also be used to protect their own interests. Local officials acted as agents of the central power, but they will also have had apprehensions of their own, particularly about their ability to defend themselves against possible charges of negligence or misconduct. In Peru, the practice of making duplicate khipus presumably meant that local officials had access to records documenting the fulfilment of their obligations and could call on these records if questions arose about their work. In the Aztec empire, too, record-keeping seems to have been undertaken at local as well as central level. We have seen how the province of Tlapa apparently kept its own records of the tribute it had paid to the Aztec rulers; if this is correct, provincial leaders would have been able to invoke these records to demonstrate their compliance with their overlords’ demands. The extent to which subordinate officials in Mesopotamia and Egypt were able to use administrative records in this way during the first centuries of

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written record-keeping cannot be known. But it is certain that in Mesopotamia and Egypt, and also in China, writing eventually came to be employed more widely among members of the elite, who adopted written record-keeping techniques and used them for private purposes outside purely administrative settings. In Mesopotamia, and perhaps also in Egypt, the trigger for this innovation appears to have been the private ownership of land, or at least the possibility of holding – and alienating – land on conditions that resembled private ownership. As we saw in Chapter 3, emerging concepts of ownership and sale led wealthy individuals in Mesopotamia to use writing to create records of private land transactions. No such developments occurred in the Minoan and Mycenaean states or in the pre-Hispanic Americas, where private land sales remained unknown. In Mesopotamia, however, land transaction records proved to be the forerunners of a considerable further expansion of record-making and record-keeping. When it became possible to create records using modes of writing that encoded spoken language, the way was open both for state rulers and for individuals in a private capacity to employ records in a much broader range of contexts. The intensification of recording practices in Mesopotamia and the eastern Mediterranean forms the theme of the next chapter.

Notes 1 Another scholar (Baines, 2004, 170) commented that ‘the U-j material appears to be administrative … it attached information to deliveries’. For an opposing view of early Egyptian ‘texts’, deprecating their interpretation as tools of administrative development, see Eyre (2018). 2 The starting points for many of these arguments have been the long-running debates about whether representational systems such as proto-cuneiform or Aztec pictography should properly be considered as writing; some scholars wanted to limit the term ‘writing’ to systems that fully encode spoken language, while others argued that this is unnecessarily restrictive. Searches for more inclusive understandings then led to affirmations that concepts of ‘writing’ extended to khipus and perhaps also to the sign systems of the Iroquois and other Native American peoples (Newman, 2014, 80–1). Objections came from two opposing groups of scholars: some argued that the new inclusive definitions render the notion of ‘writing’ so vague that it becomes useless as a basis for further study, while others contended that the urge to identify all indigenous media as writing privileges Western values by presenting written text as the standard to which non-Western cultural practices must be assimilated. 3 In Egypt, for example, besides its use in administration, writing was used at an early date for monumental texts honouring gods and kings. A further debate centres on whether the initial development of writing was always motivated by needs for administrative records. Some scholars (Postgate et al., 1995) have contended that writing always emerged in support of administration, but others (e.g., Cooper, 2007; Steinkeller, 2017, 16–24) have argued that, in some societies, its introduction was driven by calendrical or ceremonial concerns or by desire for honorific display. It has also been noted (e.g., by Wengrow, 2008) that administration, ceremonial, and display need not be mutually exclusive.

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94 Egypt, the Aegean, China, the Americas Smyth, Michael P. (2016) ‘Storage, Tribute, and Political Administration among the Lowland Maya’, in Linda R. Manzanilla and Mitchell S. Rothman, eds., Storage in Ancient Complex Societies, Routledge. Steele, Philippa M. (2009) ‘A Comparative Look at Mycenaean and Near Eastern Bureaucracies: “Bilateral” Documentation in the Linear B Archives?’, Kadmos 47 (1–2): 31–49. Steele, Philippa M. (2017a) ‘Introduction: The Aegean Writing Systems’, in Philippa M. Steele, ed., Understanding Relations between Scripts, Oxbow. Steele, Philippa M. (2017b), ‘Writing “Systems”: Literacy and the Transmission of Writing in Nonadministrative Contexts’, in Anna Margherita Jasink, Judith Weingarten, and Silvia Ferrara, eds., Non-Scribal Communication Media in the Bronze Age Aegean and Surrounding Areas, Firenze University Press. Steinkeller, Piotr (2017) History, Texts and Art in Early Babylonia, De Gruyter. Tallet, Pierre, and Gregory Marouard (2014) ‘The Harbor of Khufu on the Red Sea Coast at Wadi al-Jarf, Egypt’, Near Eastern Archaeology 77 (1): 4–14. Tomas, Helena (2012) ‘Cretan Hieroglyphic and Linear A’, in Eric H. Cline, ed., The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean, Oxford University Press. Tomas, Helena (2013) ‘Saving on Clay: The Linear B Practice of Cutting Tablets’, in Kathryn E. Piquette and Ruth D. Whitehouse, eds., Writing as Material Practice, Ubiquity. Topic, John R. (2016) ‘Storerooms, Tokens, and Administrative Devices: An Andean Case Study’, in Linda R. Manzanilla and Mitchell S. Rothman, eds., Storage in Ancient Complex Societies, Routledge. Trigger, Bruce G. (2003) Understanding Early Civilizations, Cambridge University Press. Tsang Wing Ma (2017) ‘Scribes, Assistants, and the Materiality of Administrative Documents in Qin–Early Han China: Excavated Evidence from Liye, Shuihudi, and Zhangjiashan’, T’oung Pao 103–105: 297–333. Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien (2004) Written on Bamboo and Silk: The Beginnings of Chinese Books and Inscriptions, 2nd edn., University of Chicago Press. Urton, Gary (2010) ‘Recording Measure(ment)s in the Inka Khipu’, in Iain Morley and Colin Renfrew, eds., The Archaeology of Measurement, Cambridge University Press. Urton, Gary (2014) ‘From Middle Horizon Cord-Keeping to the Rise of Inka Khipus in the Central Andes’, Antiquity 88 (339): 205–221. Urton, Gary (2018) ‘Quipus and Yupanas as Imperial Registers: Reckoning and Recording in Tahuantinsuyu’, in Sonia Alconini and R. Alan Covey, eds., The Oxford Handbook of the Incas, Oxford University Press. Urton, Gary, and Carrie J. Brezine (2007) ‘Information Control in the Palace of Puruchuco: An Accounting Hierarchy in a Khipu Archive from Coastal Peru’, in Richard L. Burger, Craig Morris, and Ramiro Matos Mendieta, eds., Variations in the Expression of Inka Power, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library. Urton, Gary, and Carrie J. Brezine (2011) ‘Khipu Typologies’, in Elizabeth Hill Boone and Gary Urton, eds., Their Way of Writing: Scripts, Signs, and Pictographies in Pre-Columbian America, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library. Urton, Gary, and Alejandro Chu (2015) ‘Accounting in the King’s Storehouse: The Inkawasi Khipu Archive’, Latin American Antiquity 26 (4): 512–529.

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Ventris, Michael, and John Chadwick (1973) Documents in Mycenaean Greek, 2nd edn., Cambridge University Press. Von Falkenhausen, Lothar (2005) ‘The E Jun Qi Metal Tallies’, in Martin Kern, ed., Text and Ritual in Early China, University of Washington Press. Wang Haicheng (2014) Writing and the Ancient State: Early China in Comparative Perspective, Cambridge University Press. Wegner, Josef (2018) ‘The Evolution of Ancient Egyptian Seals and Sealing Systems’, in Marta Ameri, Sarah Kielt Costello, Gregg Jamison, and Sarah Jarmer Scott, eds., Seals and Sealing in the Ancient World, Cambridge University Press. Wei Lu and Max Aiken (2004) ‘Origins and Evolution of Chinese Writing Systems and Preliminary Counting Relationships’, Accounting History 9 (3): 25–51. Weingarten, Judith (2012) ‘Minoan Seals and Sealings’, in Eric H. Cline, ed., The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean, Oxford University Press. Weld, Susan (1999) ‘Chu Law in Action: Legal Documents from Tomb 2 at Baoshan’, in Constance A. Cook and John S. Major, eds., Defining Chu: Image and Reality in Ancient China, University of Hawai‘i Press. Wengrow, David (2006) The Archaeology of Early Egypt, Cambridge University Press. Wengrow, David (2008) ‘Limits of Decipherment: Object Biographies and the Invention of Writing’, in B. Midant-Reynes and Y. Tristant, eds., Egypt at Its Origins 2, Peeters. Wengrow, David (2011) ‘The Invention of Writing in Egypt’, in Emily Teeter, ed., Before the Pyramids, Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Xiuzhen Li, Andrew Bevan, Marcos Martinón-Torres, Yin Xia, and Kun Zhao (2016) ‘Marking Practices and the Making of the Qin Terracotta Army’, Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 42: 169–183. Yates, Robin D. S. (2012–13) ‘The Qin Slips and Boards from Well No.1, Liye, Hunan: A Brief Introduction to the Qin Qianling County Archives’, Early China 35–36: 291–329. Yates, Robin D. S. (2014) ‘Introduction: The Empire of the Scribes’, in Yuri Pines, Gideon Shelach, Lothar von Falkenhausen, and Robin D. S. Yates, eds., Birth of an Empire: The State of Qin Revisited, University of California Press. Younger, John G. (2018) ‘Aegean Bronze Age Seal Stones and Finger Rings: Chronology and Functions’, in Marta Ameri, Sarah Kielt Costello, Gregg Jamison, and Sarah Jarmer Scott, eds., Seals and Sealing in the Ancient World, Cambridge University Press. Yushu Gong (2010) ‘Numerical Signs: The Sumerian and Chinese Cases’, Scripta 2: 115–132.

Chapter 5

Creating and storing written records and archives: the proliferation of records in south-west Asia, Egypt, and Greece

This chapter examines the proliferation of records and archival practices that followed the initial appearance of writing techniques in Mesopotamia and Egypt. The chapter focuses on developments in south-west Asia, Egypt, and the eastern Mediterranean, because it is only in the context of this region that a story of this kind can effectively be told. In Mexico and Peru, further development of native recording practices was abruptly curtailed by Spanish invasion. In early China, a proliferation of record-making and record-keeping undoubtedly occurred in the centuries after the first appearance of writing, and we can glimpse some occasions on which records were created or used, but evidence of their historical development is sparse. It seems certain that, by the time of the earliest surviving records on bamboo, Chinese record-making practices were already well-established, and extensive record-keeping was already the norm; how these practices came to proliferate is not a story that can yet be told in any detail. In south-west Asia and Egypt, however, we can more clearly see how the growing sophistication of writing underpinned a rapid expansion in the making and keeping of records and their use for a wider range of purposes. In south-west Asia, we can also attempt to trace the geographical spread of written record-making as the practice of inscribing clay tablets gradually extended beyond the Mesopotamian heartland. A little over 5000 years ago, as we saw in Chapter 3, the use of writing emerged to support the making and keeping of records in and around the burgeoning city of Uruk in what is now southern Iraq. Apart from a brief period of expansion into what is now Iran, written record-making in south-west Asia barely reached beyond southern Iraq for several centuries; but after almost half a millennium, cuneiform writing and the use of clay tablets spread across northern parts of Iraq and into northern Syria, where Mesopotamian culture eventually extended to the Mediterranean coast. Initially used to write Akkadian and Sumerian, the languages of the Tigris–Euphrates basin, Mesopotamian scripting techniques were adapted to write a number of other languages. American Assyriologist Jerrold Cooper has explained that:

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cuneiform literacy … traveled far beyond the reach of Babylonian armies. It arrived at Ebla [in Syria] around 2450 BC, long before Ebla was conquered by the Babylonian rulers … and [it] flourished in many areas on the periphery of Mesopotamia that enjoyed complete independence from the center. (Cooper, 2007, 88) In the second millennium BC, Mesopotamian modes of recording reached Anatolia, where clay tablets were used extensively by merchants from Assyria who established a trading station at Kaneš (now Kültepe, in central Turkey). Written record-making was also adopted in the Hittite kingdom, which dominated central Anatolia in the third quarter of the second millennium. Officials at the Hittite royal court used a simplified version of Mesopotamian cuneiform to create records in their own language. Record-making using clay tablets also came to be widely practised in the areas that now adjoin the Syrian–Turkish border, under the influence of Hittite as well as Mesopotamian culture. Besides numerous finds in the Mesopotamian heartland, large numbers of written records have been discovered at Ebla, at Kaneš, and at sites such as Ugarit and Alalakh on either side of the border between Syria and Turkey. Records survive in the largest quantities at sites that suffered rapid destruction in ancient times, but it is clear that literacy also extended to many places where no – or very few – records have yet been found: at Ugarit, for example, archaeologists discovered documents that had been despatched to Ugarit from twelve other Syrian towns (Van Soldt, 2012, 105). Scholars have sometimes thought that, in comparison with much of southwest Asia, written records were less pervasive in Egypt. Egyptian and Mesopotamian societies in the third and second millennia were certainly very different in many respects. In general, Egypt was politically more centralized than Mesopotamia, its culture more uniform, and its rulers arguably more powerful. Societal practices in one of the two regions did not ineluctably function in the same way, or on the same scale, in the other. But the apparent paucity of methodical record-keeping in Egypt may be simply a consequence of the survival of Mesopotamian records in far greater numbers. The papyrus used by Egyptian scribes has proved less durable than the clay tablets of Mesopotamia, but the frequency with which scribes and scribal work are depicted in Egyptian art indicates that the making of written records became unexceptional at the upper levels of Egyptian society. This chapter examines the introduction of new types of record, the contexts in which records were created, and the techniques used to store and gain access to records in south-west Asia and Egypt, in the third, second, and first millennia BC. It considers what kinds of records were deemed necessary and how records were managed; it also reviews some circumstances in which people in these societies did not create or keep written records. In the account

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that follows, the stories of developments in Egypt and in different parts of south-west Asia have been to some degree interwoven. The intention is not to suggest that developments in different localities were always interconnected or that one locality had direct influence over another, but to notice a number of parallels between recording habits and practices that emerged in coeval societies. The chapter – which necessarily summarizes some highly complex historical developments – concludes with an account of written records in classical Greece and a brief survey of the record-making and record-keeping practices of the Hellenistic world, into which Egypt and south-west Asia were eventually subsumed.

Developing new types of record Many of the earliest written tablets from Uruk were found in the precincts of a temple complex, and scholars have inferred that they were created as records of the temple administration (Postgate, 1992, 66–7). As the use of writing was disseminated across the Mesopotamian region during the third millennium, written accounting records came to be widely used in conducting the economic affairs of temples, and also of royal palaces when they came to be established separately from the temples. The numbers of surviving tablets indicate that temples, palaces, and royal governments continued to be the most prolific creators of records throughout Mesopotamian history. But the practice of making written records also spread to private individuals, who – as noted in Chapter 3 – initially adopted it to serve what would now be called ‘legal’ purposes in connection with land ownership. The first records of private land transactions were inscribed on stone and seem to have been descriptions of a number of purchases made by a single buyer from different sellers (Gelb et al., 1991, 14–15), but by the middle of the third millennium landowners had started making separate records of individual transactions. Clay replaced stone as the preferred medium for these records, and sales of enslaved people as well as sales of land began to be recorded in writing. As Assyriologist Klaas Veenhof explained: around 2500 BC, … clay tablets … record that fields and houses (a little later also slaves) had been acquired from their owners by individuals against payment in silver or copper, in the presence of witnesses .… In the 24th century BC, along with these records of conveyance of real estate, … the first records of liabilities resulting from debt and guaranty appear, together with records on hereditary divisions. (Veenhof, 2003b, 142) From the middle of the third millennium, the ability to use writing to represent spoken language underpinned a rapid growth in the range of matters that people in Mesopotamia sought to record. The earliest known judicial records and the

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first written treaties between rulers date from the 24th century (Postgate, 1992, 66; Van de Mieroop, 1999, 24). Field maps and architect’s plans are first known about 2100 (Postgate, 1992, 117, 230–1), and written marriage settlements and wills were in use by the early years of the second millennium (Veenhof, 2003c, 451–3, 457–8). The diversity of records continued to grow during the centuries that followed. The expansion of record-making into new areas of life affected every part of the Mesopotamian economy, including trade, workshop production, agriculture, and estate management, as well as property ownership. The first records unambiguously created for trading or ‘business’ purposes date from about 2300 (Postgate, 1992, 66), although a few earlier examples can be speculatively associated with commercial activities. Private business records maintained by merchants and even herdsmen are known from the final century of the third millennium (Lafont and Westbrook, 2003, 185). The growing sophistication of Mesopotamian writing also led to its eventual use in inscribing monuments, statues, utensils, and cylinder seals, and in producing the first religious and literary texts (Michalowski, 2014, 146–7), although these lie outside the scope of this book. But institutional administration – particularly accounting for the movement and use of resources – remained the predominant sphere of writing in Mesopotamia; it has been estimated that about 90% of extant writings from the early and middle years of the third millennium are of an administrative nature (Bartash, 2020, 535). In Egypt, the ability to encode spoken language had consequences similar to those observable in Mesopotamia. Although surviving evidence is less prolific in Egypt, it is clear that other types of records developed in addition to accounting documents and records of property sales. Inventories and labour duty rosters have been found in the mid-third-millennium temples at Abusir (Hagen and Soliman, 2018, 84–6). A litigation record survives from late-third-millennium Egypt, at a time when written wills, or documents resembling what we now call wills, were also in use (Lippert, 2012, 2–3; Philip-Stéphan, 2005). By the end of the following millennium, the range of records created in Egypt had expanded to include tomb plans, adoption records, quitclaims, and records of loans and debts (Jasnow, 2003, 327, 338–40; McDowell, 1999, 202–5).

The beginnings of letter-writing New writing techniques also revolutionized long-distance communication. Societies without the ability to represent spoken language in writing often have methods of conveying a message beyond human earshot: line-of-sight devices such as fire beacons or smoke signals can transmit simple messages, and drum or whistle systems can transform language into forms that are audible across greater distance than human speech (Sebeok and Umiker-Sebeok, 1976). However, there are limits to the distances over which systems such as these can

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operate and the variety or complexity of messages they can convey, and most non-literate societies rely substantially on human messengers. When messages to remote recipients are communicated by messengers, accurate transmission depends on the messengers’ memory, although (as discussed in Chapter 1) it may be possible for them to carry objects or artefacts intended to reinforce their memory by evoking some or all of a message’s content. When basic modes of writing become possible, a literate messenger might carry a list of topics to be addressed. We do not know how far such aids were used in southwest Asia in ancient times; but we can be confident that, when communications could be encoded in written prose, more complex messages could be sent, with less risk of corruption in their transmission. Literate messengers could read out the contents of the written messages entrusted to them. No further intermediary was required; a written message – in a form that we would now call a letter – conveyed the precise words used by its sender. A second-millennium Mesopotamian poem affirmed that writing had been invented to allow the delivery of longer messages than had been possible using oral methods of transmission: the poem tells us that Enmerkar, king of Uruk, wanted to send a message to the lord of a mythical place named Aratta, but because the messenger could not repeat the message correctly the king ‘patted some clay and put the words on it’, thereby inventing writing (Vanstiphout, 2004, 85). We can no longer hold this view of the origins of cuneiform script, but we can perhaps still appreciate the excitement that people in south-west Asia felt when they discovered, not only that lengthy messages could be communicated to others in writing, but also that distances between correspondents could in some sense be diminished or removed by the new technology.1 In Mesopotamia, according to Assyriologist Dominique Charpin (2010a, 152), ‘the most ancient letters that have come down to us date from … about 2350 BC’. Initially sparse, letters became much more numerous and also more diverse and verbose in the early years of the next millennium; Charpin (2010a, 152–3) argued that correspondence became the most prevalent use of writing in Mesopotamia at this time. In Egypt, the earliest extant letters date from the reign of Pharaoh Djedkare-Isesi (Huehnergard, 2018, 698; Wente, 1990, 6) and are roughly contemporary with the earliest letters in Mesopotamia. Only a few hundred letters are known to survive intact or largely intact from the Pharaonic era in Egypt, but it is clear that these are merely a few of the many that once existed and that letter-writing eventually achieved widespread penetration in Egyptian society. The first Mesopotamian letters generally encoded messages from one state official to another (Michalowski, 1993; Postgate, 1992, 68). Non-official letters from the third millennium are rare, but in the early second millennium the writing of private letters boomed; many thousands survive. These include large numbers of personal letters from one member of a family to another as well as, for example, letters from heads of households to their stewards.

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Letters between rulers and their military commanders in the field and letters from nomad chiefs are also known from this period, and there are substantial numbers of letters written by women, including women acting as business associates with their husbands (Charpin, 2010b, 15, 128; Michel, 2001, 419– 25; Postgate, 1992, 69; cf. Charpin, 2010a, 151). International trade flourished in the third millennium, but the extensive use of letters in facilitating international trading activities seems to have been a development of the first two centuries of the second millennium, when Assyrian merchants operating in Anatolia communicated regularly by letter with their partners in northern Mesopotamia (Michel, 2001). Similarly, in Egypt, the earliest known letters were written in connection with the official business of a temple (Posener-Kriéger, 1986, 29). Private letterwriting seems to have begun a little later, although letters were certainly used for personal and family communication in Egypt by the end of the third or beginning of the second millennium (Baer, 1963; Wente, 1990, 58–63). Early letters in Mesopotamia seem to have been addressed to the messenger rather than the ultimate recipient of the message. A typical letter opened with the words ‘Say to [Person B]: “Thus says [Person A] …”’ (Charpin, 2010a, 126; Michel, 2001, 34–5; Vulliet, 2011, 488). It seems that the messenger was envisaged as substituting for Person A and was instructed to deliver the message orally as if Person A were speaking it. Presumably, this reflected the mode of verbal delivery used when messengers were required to memorize the messages entrusted to them. When messages first came to be written on clay tablets, questions will have arisen about what the messenger was expected to do with a tablet once he had recited its contents. Should he discard it? Should he return it to its place of origin? Returning it may often have seemed an unnecessary burden. Should he leave it with the recipient of the message? We can imagine that at some unknown moment in history recipients began to ask to retain the tablet on which the letter was written, so that they would not forget its contents. Eventually, the role of the messenger in reading letters aloud seems to have declined in importance; letters came to be addressed to recipients, not to messengers, and the retention of letters by recipients became a common practice.2

Storing and managing archives in Mesopotamia and Egypt In any society where physical records are retained, storage space will be required to house them, and when people in early societies began to create records in larger quantities they also began to see the merits of bringing records together and storing them in a dedicated location. In Mesopotamian temples and palaces, it became usual to assign a room or rooms for record-keeping. Rooms used to store clay tablets have been identified in Iran at late-fourth-millennium Godin Tepe (Matthews, 2013, 344) and in Iraq at early-third-millennium Ur (Benati and Lecompte, 2016, 24), as well as at many later sites. Excavations of the palace at Ebla have revealed several rooms used for storing records during the 24th

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century BC (Matthiae, 2013, 51–3, 59–62). In the palace at Mari (Syria) in the early second millennium, the doors to rooms of this kind were secured with seals, to deter unauthorized access (Malamat, 1986, 160). Outside the palaces, the practice of keeping written records in private houses began in Mesopotamia in the third millennium and later became widespread. Merchant traders with large numbers of records might also keep them in a sealed room, as Assyrian merchants in second-millennium Anatolia certainly did (Lion, 2011, 104–5; Veenhof, 2003a, 99). Other wealthy individuals also kept extensive records. A private landowner at Nuzi in northern Mesopotamia possessed more than 1000 tablets (Maidman, 1979, 179). At Sippar in Babylonia, the dirge-singer Inana-mansum is known to have had a dedicated room for storing tablets in his house (Tanret, 2011, 271). But most people who kept records had more modest requirements and usually stored their tablets in a jar or box in a cellar or a corner of a room, alongside other valuable items. By the beginning of the second millennium, the keeping of records in private houses was commonplace, at least among the urban elite; in recent excavations in cities such as Aššur, clay-tablet records were found in roughly a quarter to a half of the houses in elite districts (Charpin, 2010b, 12). When records stored together emanate from a single household or a single institution, it seems appropriate to refer to them as an ‘archive’.3 In Egypt, the earliest institutional archives found in situ are those discovered in the mortuary temples of Neferirkare and Raneferef at Abusir, dating from the reign of the mid-third-millennium king Djedkare-Isesi (Posener-Kriéger, 1986; Posener-Kriéger et al., 2006), although the practice of maintaining institutional archives is almost certainly older. Grain and cloth accounts found at Gebelein, 500 kilometres south of Abusir, probably originally formed part of a substantial estate archive dating from a slightly earlier period (PosenerKriéger, 1986, 25–7).4 Early Egyptian archives have not generally survived intact; most extant early records come from ill-documented excavations or were excavated from ancient rubbish dumps where they had already been detached from their archival contexts. Nevertheless, most of the early records found in Egypt can be assumed to have formed part of a larger archive, with which they were once stored. The letters and accounts of the farmer Hekanakht (or Heqanakht) and his family, about four centuries after the Abusir archives, are rare survivors that must originally have been components of a more extensive Egyptian domestic archive of which we have only a small sample (Baer, 1963; Ezzamel, 2002). In studies of Pharaonic Egypt, official archives are often associated with a high officer of state whose title (Egyptian ṯʒty) is usually translated into English as ‘vizier’. This officer was the king’s chief executive, and a sense of the responsibilities assigned to him can be gained from a text (known in English as the ‘Duties of the Vizier’) inscribed in several second-millennium Egyptian tombs; although the precise interpretation of this text is a subject of

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scholarly dispute, it is clear that the vizier was expected to have frequent recourse to records in the course of his work (Van den Boorn, 1988, 133–45, 217). He almost certainly used records of divisions of the state administration to monitor or audit their activities. In addition, certain types of records, especially relating to legal matters, may have been kept in the vizier’s office. The existence of storage accommodation for Egyptian records is known, not only from texts indicating that state institutions had special locations for their archives, but also from a room or building called the ‘Store for Documents of Pharaoh’, which has been identified at Amarna in central Egypt from hieroglyphic labels stamped on bricks (Allam, 2009, 62; Quirke, 1996, 394). In late second-millennium Egypt, each unit of the administration seems to have maintained its own ‘store for documents’ (Quirke, 1996, 396). Egyptologist John Baines (2007, 51) has suggested that record-keeping on a large scale may not have extended across the whole of the country in the third and second millennia, but storage facilities for records are likely to have been common in the urban centres where tendencies towards bureaucratic practice were most fully entrenched. There is some evidence that chests or boxes were used within these storage areas (Eyre, 2013, 254–6, 300), but little else is known of how official records were filed and arranged in Pharaonic Egypt. We have more knowledge of the storage methods employed in the Mesopotamian world. Wooden shelves were used at sites such as Ebla and Kaneš (Archi, 2003, 32–5; Larsen, 2008, 81); elsewhere, clay tablets were kept in pottery jars, leather bags, and baskets or chests made of reed or wood (Tsouparopoulou, 2017, 616–17), and these were probably used more widely than shelves. Where records existed in large quantities, there was potentially also a need for a scheme of arrangement, and in writings by archivists the Ebla archives have often been cited as an example of well-organized practice (Angelucci, 2008, 17–18; Bradsher, 1985; Gilliland, 2011, 112–13). It seems that the arrangement of stored records frequently reflected their functional origins. In the second-millennium royal palace at Ugarit, treaties and other records of royal diplomacy were stored in one room, and records of private legal transactions presided over by the king in another (Márquez Rowe, 2006, 73); this distribution may have corresponded to a division of the palace administration into separate offices or departments. Inscriptions on jars found in a temple at Aššur show that accounts of the temple brewers were stored in a separate jar from the accounts of the oil-pressers. Another jar discovered elsewhere in Aššur contained tablets recording twelve months’ work activities of the animal-fattener of the royal household (Postgate, 2013, 90, 177). The arrangement of records did not always display such coherence. We know that, in the palace at Mari, ordering systems allowed letters received in the reign of king Šamši-Adad to be placed in separate chests from letters received in the time of his successor Zimrı--Lı-m. But arrangement in many parts of the palace seems to have been less systematic, with (for example) letters, contracts, and accounts

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apparently stored in the same room as incantations and clay models used for divination (Charpin, 2010a, 144–5; Margueron, 1986, 145). In Pharaonic Egypt, too, official archives often seem to have been poorly organized, with few tools to support retrieval (Eyre, 2013, 342–3). Modern scholars have often assumed that, at least in larger repositories, custodians of records must have used descriptive techniques to maintain control of their holdings and assist with reference. Archival scholar Luciana Duranti (1993, 48) affirmed that the oldest known example of archival description ‘is a repertory of documents … found in a private archives of Nuzi … dated 1500 BC’. In fact, an older ‘repertory’ – a list of baskets that contained records, mainly of receipts and disbursements of barley and other movable property – is known from third-millennium Girsu (Lagaš) in Iraq. Lists of this kind are sometimes characterized as finding aids or filing tools, but they are perhaps more likely to have served other purposes; some may have indicated records that were to be moved to or from storage or handed over to a third party (Foster, 1982, 12–13, 25–6; Veenhof, 2013, 31–2). Surviving lists of documents or containers from ancient south-west Asia are few in number; to modern eyes, their arrangement seems random, and their lack of obvious connection to storage locations makes it unlikely that they formed parts of organized retrieval systems. A schedule of 24 record containers from Aššur (‘1 chest of obligations on Šamaš-eriš; 1 chest of clearances …’) was not a finding aid per se, but part of an inventory of the owner’s furniture and possessions (Charpin, 2010a, 100; Postgate, 2013, 241–3). A solitary schedule of papyrus records survives from Pharaonic Egypt, but it was a working document used in recovering papyri during a criminal investigation, not a descriptive reference tool (Eyre, 2009, 24). In practice, retrieval from a repository probably relied largely on the memory of those who were familiar with its contents. When Assyrian merchant Ennam-Aššur was away from home and wrote to his wife asking her to send him a clay tablet that he needed, he was able to remember that the tablet was stored in a particular container and sent this information to his wife to enable her to find it (Veenhof, 2013, 56). Similarly, when king Zimrı--Lı-m of Mari wrote to his steward with instructions to retrieve records, the steward’s letter of reply made no mention of consulting a finding aid, but instead stated that, on a visit to the room where the archives were stored, ‘Igmilum … pointed out to us the two chests containing the tablets’ (Charpin, 2010a, 109). At Ebla, tablets were apparently placed on shelves in a way that would have allowed users to browse the first lines or columns of writing (Matthiae, 1986, 64–6).5 Familiarity with the physical appearance of tablets may also have aided retrieval when the tablets were stored on shelves or in open baskets; records of sheep deliveries, for example, were easily identifiable at Ebla because of their large size and distinctive rounded corners (Archi, 2015, 90). But when tablets were kept in chests or other closed containers, these retrieval methods would have been less useful. Chests, baskets, and other containers

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sometimes had labels with brief descriptions of their contents (Larsen, 2008, 85–7; Tsouparopoulou, 2017, 622–5), but it is far from certain that this was a universal practice; locating records must often have depended on the custodian’s tacit knowledge of where each chest was placed and what it contained.

The limits of record-keeping Although south-west Asia has often been seen as the birthplace of bureaucracy, the interests of its ancient rulers were not as extensive as those of modern governments, and the types of records created and kept by those rulers were accordingly less varied than those of today’s public-sector institutions. For example, no rulers in ancient south-west Asia sought to make comprehensive records of the births, marriages, or deaths of their subjects.6 Nor did rulers always feel it necessary to make records even of matters that probably interested them more deeply. It seems, for example, that appointments of senior Mesopotamian public officials were normally made orally, and that no formal records of such appointments were created. In other situations, records of decisions were created but were not always kept where a modern observer might expect to find them. For example, records were made of court judgements in legal disputes, but these were not usually retained by the courts; they were normally handed to the winning party in the dispute. It seems to have been assumed that records would be required only by those who might need to prove that a court had found in their favour. At Girsu, in the last century of the third millennium, reports of trials were compiled and kept centrally, but these seem to have been exceptional; even in later periods, records of Mesopotamian court cases were generally made only for issue to litigants (Lafont, 2000, 38; cf. Holtz, 2009, 304, 308). According to Klaas Veenhof (2003c, 433), all extant judicial records from early-second-millennium Assyria ‘were found in private archives, apparently because the winner of a case obtained [them] as proof of … rights’. In Egypt, most surviving records of litigation are almost certainly memoranda kept by litigants, but there is some evidence from the late second millennium that courts created records for official use, although it is uncertain whether these records were kept by the courts or were forwarded to higher authorities as reports of completed business. Besides numerous records relating to civil disputes, some criminal trial records survive from this period, and these also seem likely to have been maintained for official purposes; some are believed to have been housed in the mortuary temple of Ramesses III (McDowell, 1990, 4–7, 188). There is stronger evidence suggesting that Egyptian courts kept records of their own in the first millennium (Porten, 2003, 864, 870). They certainly kept records of their proceedings under the Ptolemies, the Greek dynasty that ruled Egypt from 305 to 30 BC; more than twenty Ptolemaic examples of such records are extant, as well as many more from the Roman era (Coles, 1966, 55–63).

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The principle that records were kept by those who stood to benefit from them, and in particular by those who might need to use them to prove their rights, applied also to records of property transfers. In Mesopotamia in the third and second millennia, records of sales were kept by purchasers, but (in contrast to modern – and later Mesopotamian – practice) vendors did not normally keep a copy for their own use (Charpin, 2010a, 96). Individuals and families stored records of their property purchases alongside records of court judgements made in their favour and other records that they accumulated in the course of business or daily life. In the first centuries of written record-keeping, there were no repositories outside the household where such archives could be stored, and individuals or families who possessed records kept them in their own houses. But as early as the second millennium, it seems that individuals who lacked secure accommodation sometimes deposited records in the house of a trusted neighbour (Veenhof, 2003a, 115–16). Private records have also been found in temples and palaces from the second and first millennia. Archaeological finds at a temple at Emar in Syria included records of transactions by numerous different individuals; it has sometimes been thought that the temple served as a public repository where individuals and families could deposit tablets (Beckman, 1996, 9), although this remains uncertain. At Ugarit, a room in the royal palace was used to store tablets recording transactions that private individuals undertook in the king’s presence (Márquez Rowe, 2006, 73, 125), but it is clear that these records were not acquired as deposits from the individuals concerned; the palace drew up and retained the records when the transactions were executed. At Nineveh, records of first-millennium property purchases made by individuals were found in the palace complex, but all or most seem to be records that would have belonged to people connected with or employed by the royal court (Kwasman and Parpola, 1991). Scholars have often sought to associate the introduction of public repositories in Mesopotamia with the establishment of centralized registration practices, particularly for land transactions. Some scholars believe that there was a public registry of land-sale records (not a register per se, but an ‘archive’ of duplicate or copy sale tablets maintained by town authorities) in Aššur in the late second millennium, and the finds of tablets in the temple at Emar have led to suggestions that a land registry may have operated there at the same period (Villard, 1996, 52–3; Westbrook, 2003, 657). Some Assyriologists have also posited the existence of an official registry of property titles, including sales of enslaved people as well as land transfers, in mid-first-millennium Babylonia (Stolper, 1989). As yet, however, the existence of these registration systems seemingly remains unproven. In Egypt, much of the picture is equally unclear. In the early second millennium, every large town in Egypt had a kind of town clerk’s office (often referred to by Egyptologists as the ‘office of the reporter’), where written instructions from the king were received, acted on, and then stored. Two

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surviving papyrus texts seem to indicate that records of property transfers between individuals, or copies of such records, could be also placed in these offices for safekeeping (Hayes, 1955, 116, 122, 139; Logan, 2000, 58). Later in the same millennium, the list of responsibilities assigned to the vizier included instructions that certain records of property transfers should be brought to the vizier and sealed by him, and that other documents – apparently relating to field boundaries – should be ‘in his office’ (Van den Boorn, 1988, 172, 266). However, because so few relevant records survive, it is impossible to assess how far these instructions were observed in practice. A text inscribed on stone at roughly the same period tells us that the office of the vizier played a part in resolving a dispute over a domestic property transfer record; unfortunately, some of the words at the end of the inscription are now missing, and scholars are unsure whether the text originally said that the vizier’s office ‘made’ the record, ‘sealed’ and perhaps ‘registered’ it, or ‘acquired a copy’ of it (Eyre, 2013, 263; Logan, 2000, 65; Théodoridès, 1970, 160). This office served as a place of issue for legal documents and may have offered facilities for housing records relating to individuals’ property rights, but this remains uncertain; if such facilities were offered, it is very unlikely that every such record found its way there. Other stone inscriptions from the Pharaonic era appear to refer to the consultation of ‘land registers’ or similar records (Allam, 2009, 68–9), and these have sometimes been interpreted as allusions to formal systems for central recording of property transfers or ownership. Papyrus documents that appear to be a kind of ‘land register’ are known from the twelfth and tenth centuries, but they resemble surveys rather than ownership registers, and they were probably compiled purely for taxation purposes; they give the names of cultivators and measurements of field areas, which could have been used to assess quotas of grain to be paid to temples (Gardiner, 1948, 197–210; Vleeming, 1993, 71–5). If registration systems for land or other property transfers existed in Pharaonic Egypt, they probably took the form of offices where individual transfer records could be deposited for secure storage; but there is no conclusive evidence that these offices kept registers of changes in ownership or maintained authoritative lists of the transactional records entrusted to them. Their role was perhaps to act as what are now sometimes called ‘trusted third parties’: disinterested custodians who could be relied on not to tamper with the records in their keeping.

Record-making and record-keeping in Greece Some scholars have argued that more comprehensive systems of record-keeping and property registration may have first been developed, not in Egypt or Mesopotamia, but in Greece. Other changes, too, can be traced to the city-states of first-millennium Greece, and particularly to Athens, where the emergence of the earliest democratic forms of government and the consequent shift to greater openness in administration led to the development of state record-keeping

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systems that were more publicly accessible than those of earlier times. At the peak of democratic rule, all major political decisions in Athens were made by the popular assembly in which every adult male citizen could speak and vote; participation was, however, denied to women, enslaved persons, and foreign residents. Judgements in Athenian law courts were also in the hands of citizens, not of elite judges. Citizen involvement in Athenian administration, it has been argued, demanded an appropriate level of literacy (Missiou, 2011), and the growth of democracy was paralleled – and perhaps underwritten – by a growth in literate behaviour and social uses of writing. Historians have often depicted democratic Athens as a society hospitable to a range of cultural innovations. But the story of Greek record-keeping is not confined to developments in the city of Athens; nor is it a story of continuous expansion of written record-keeping practices. Long before the birth of Athenian democracy, the first written records in Greece had been created by the Minoans and the Mycenaeans, but – as we saw in Chapter 4 – the keeping of written records had ceased when the Mycenaean civilization collapsed in the latter part of the second millennium. Writing then disappeared from the Greek mainland and the Aegean islands for more than four centuries. As historian Jonathan Hall (2006, 203) noted, ‘with the destruction of the Mycenaean palaces … the bureaucratic necessity for … literacy evaporated; literacy – this time in alphabetic form – is not attested again in Greece … until the middle of the eighth century BC’. In fact, according to archaeologist and historian Ian Morris (2005, 13), the Greeks of the first millennium ‘had known of Near Eastern scripts since at least 900, but only developed their own writing … around 750 BC’. However, in contrast to earlier Greek literacy, this development does not seem to have been driven by needs for administrative record-keeping. After the rediscovery of writing in Greece, its first attested uses include epitaphs, craft-workers’ signatures, graffiti, statements of ownership inscribed on pottery, and dedications to gods inscribed on temple objects, but there is an interval of about two centuries before writing is known to have been used for recording public works, treaties, decrees, and temple inventories. In the absence of centralized economic structures, written records may have been used in private commerce before they were adopted for public affairs. There is little evidence that writing was used for commercial purposes in Greece before the sixth century, but ownership statements (‘I belong to [name]’) were inscribed on large pottery jars before this date, and these inscriptions may have been made by traders to distinguish cargoes on ships (Morris, 2005, 13; Wilson, 2009, 549, 551–4). The origins of Greek letter-writing are equally obscure. Few early Greek letters are extant; the earliest date from the middle of the sixth century (Ceccarelli, 2013a, 27). It is uncertain how far the lack of surviving evidence indicates a scarcity of literate practice before the sixth century and how far it merely reflects a neartotal disappearance of records that had been written on perishable materials.

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Written laws from the island of Crete survive from the middle of the seventh century, but nothing comparable is known from Athens at this period; the first surviving Athenian written laws date from a century later, and they survive in much smaller numbers (Whitley, 1997). Scholars have argued that the predominant uses of writing in sixth-century Athens, and in other parts of Greece that followed the Athenian model, were almost certainly personal rather than official (Ceccarelli, 2013a, 30–1). Even in a city such as Gortyn in Crete, where a law code was set down in writing at an early date, legislators assumed that future legal disputes would be resolved by summoning human witnesses, not by consulting written records (Robb, 1994, 109). Many Greek cities had officials with titles related to memory, such as the mne-mo-n or mnamo-n (usually translated ‘remembrancer’) employed at Gortyn, Halikarnassos, Nemea, and elsewhere. These officials eventually acquired duties that required them to keep or rely on written records, but the title of ‘remembrancer’ indicates that the earliest holders of these positions were responsible for mental recollection of matters – civic business or private transactions – that were deemed important in a world where writing was little used (Carawan, 2008; Thomas, 1992, 69–70). The extent of literacy in Athens and the degree to which the Athenian state made use of written records in the sixth and fifth centuries have also been the subject of much scholarly debate. Even ‘in the salad days of democracy in the fifth century’, a political historian has affirmed, ‘the Athenians were not as keen as they later became to count and check things at every opportunity’ (Hansen, 1999, 131). Nevertheless, it is clear that the administrative uses of writing expanded at this period. By the latter part of the fifth century, writing was used in Athens for keeping accounts, both public and private (Pébarthe, 2006, 102; Sickinger, 1999, 66–8). Written wills, or documents resembling wills, appear to have been used in late fifth-century Athens, and the use of writing to record manumissions of slaves is also known from this period (Harris, 1989, 71; Pébarthe, 2006, 95). Some Athenian records were written on papyrus; others used waxed or whitened wooden boards. The inscription of laws also became accepted practice in Athens at this time, and at the end of the fifth century, after the Athenians were defeated by their Spartan rivals in the Peloponnesian War, the assembly decreed that unwritten laws were unenforceable (Robb, 1994, 145). In his play Suppliant Women, composed about 420 BC, the Athenian dramatist Euripides proclaimed that ‘when laws are written, both the weak and the rich have justice equally’ (Ceccarelli, 2019, 112). Writing, for Euripides, is a democratic concept; an absence of written law reinforces oppressive regimes by allowing arbitrary judgements in favour of wealthy elites. Letter-writing remained rare in Athens, and in Greece generally, at the start of the fifth century. Initially, Athenian opinion seems to have associated the use of letters for public business with autocracy; even for private business, written letters were perhaps used only when the details of a confidential

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message could not be disclosed to the messenger, or when messages were too long for messengers to remember (Ceccarelli, 2013b, 86–7; cf. Démare-Lafont et al., 2013, 19). Over time, however, attitudes shifted. Classical historian James Sickinger (2013, 125) has noted that ‘some Greek poleis [city-states] were employing letters for official communications already in the fifth century BC’. A century later, while oral messages remained common, letters were widely used both in mercantile trade and in military and public affairs (Ceccarelli, 2013b, 90–1; Sickinger, 2013, 129–31). As record-keeping became more widespread, written agreements for loans, for hire of labour, and perhaps for apprenticeship came into use among the wealthier members of Greek society (Harris, 1989, 69–70). After the introduction of written law in Athens, the routine administration of justice had initially remained in the oral domain, but by the early fourth century, as philosopher and literacy scholar Kevin Robb (1994, 140) observed, ‘writing and documents [were] manifestly … becoming a presumption of the daily functioning of the courts and of legal procedures’. In the commercial field, too, record-making and record-keeping played an increasing role at this time: a trend doubtless hastened when a law was enacted that contracts relating to maritime business could only be enforced in Athenian courts if they were set out in writing (Gagarin, 2008, 198; Robb, 1994, 140). The Athenian state also used writing to record political decisions made and actions taken, and it took steps to preserve its records. Within 300 or 350 years of the Greek rediscovery of writing, a facility for maintaining and consulting records of decrees made by the assembly of Athenian citizens had been established in a building called the Bouleute-rion, the meeting-place of the councillors who were chosen by lot from among the citizenry. When the available space in the Bouleute-rion became too small, a new building was constructed for meetings of the council, and the older building was apparently converted for use purely as a record repository, which was later named the Me-tro-on (Boegehold, 1972; Sickinger, 1999, 80–3, 105–13). Responsibility for its management rested with the secretary of the council. The philosopher Epicurus seems to have deposited a private deed and perhaps also copies of his letters in the Me-tro-on, but this was not normal practice. In the main, the documents preserved in the Me-tro-on were records of the council and the assembly: laws, decrees, and treaties, together with accounts of officers and inventories of sacred goods (Clay, 1982; Pébarthe, 2006, 150–9; Sickinger, 1999, 116–33, 140–1). In the second century BC, decrees about 150 years old were findable there (Sickinger, 1999, 119, 136–7). Although the overall size of its holdings is unknown, it has been suggested that the Me-tro-on eventually stored tens of thousands of documents (Valavanis, 2002, 235). Many Athenian records, however, were preserved outside the Me-tro-on. Records of temple administration sometimes seem to have been kept by temple treasurers. Holders of some civic offices, such as the po-le-tai (public lessors or bailiffs), the hipparchoi (cavalry commanders), and the chief archo-n,

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are also believed to have kept their own working records (Georgoudi, 1988, 229–32; Pébarthe, 2006, 222–38).7 Bankers kept records of the various financial transactions in which they were involved. Individual Athenians sometimes entrusted their wills or legal agreements to civic officials, bankers, or other persons in whom they had confidence (Pébarthe, 2006, 93, 100, 108–9); this seems to have been a much commoner practice than depositing private papers in the Me-tro-on. The territory of Athens was divided into districts known as ‘demes’, and each deme kept a register of the individuals who belonged to it. When a male adult was admitted to deme membership, his name was entered in a deme register and he formally became a citizen of Athens (Haussoullier, 1884, 11–23; Pébarthe, 2006, 183–5, 201–2). According to historian Michele Faraguna (2015, 654), the deme register’s ‘earliest secure attestation is … ca.440 BC’. It has sometimes been thought that the demes kept other records too. More than a century ago, French scholar Bernard Haussoullier (1884, 111) affirmed that deme officers maintained registers of the properties in their demes; although his view met with opposition from other scholars, it was revived by Faraguna (1997), who argued that the senior officer of each deme possessed a register that contained descriptions of boundaries and allowed him to picture the ownership status of the entire land area of his deme. Less is known about Greek record-keeping practices outside Athens, but it is evident that other cities also employed written records. The notoriously undemocratic city-state of Sparta was traditionally thought to have made little use of writing, but is now recognized as a literate community where records were regularly used (Pébarthe, 2006, 40–2). In the fourth century and later, many other Greek cities are known to have maintained record repositories, variously known by titles such as grammatophylakion, chreophylakion, and archeion, although the distinctions, if any, among the different titles and the dates at which they began to function are not clearly understood.8 In most cases, the precise roles of these institutions are also uncertain, although scholars have often argued that they regularly accepted custody of records of private transactions as well as records of civic business, and that their operations thus had wider scope than either the Athenian Me-tro-on or the repositories of ancient Mesopotamia. Many of them may have had property registration functions; Faraguna (2000) found examples of registration practice in the Greek cities of Asia Minor (now western Turkey), the Aegean island of Tenos, and the Chalcidic peninsula on the Greek mainland. He identified two types of register maintained by civic authorities – registers of property arranged by personal name and registers of sales arranged chronologically – and concluded that the latter type was more widely attested across the Greek world as a whole.

The Hellenistic age After the remarkable military campaigns of Alexander the Great, the influence of Greek methods of administration spread rapidly throughout the eastern

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Mediterranean and beyond. In the words of a modern scholar, ‘the relatively short reign of Alexander (336 to 323 BC) marked one of the major turningpoints in world history’ (Hammond, 2013, xi). As his forces advanced, the Persian empire, which had acquired control of Egypt and most of south-west Asia, collapsed. Egypt surrendered to Alexander in 332 and Babylon fell to his troops in 331. Under Alexander’s successors, both Egyptian and Mesopotamian societies were increasingly exposed to Hellenistic modes of governance and record-keeping. In Egypt, if there had once been state offices where records of property transactions could be deposited, these seem to have ceased functioning long before the Greeks arrived. However, since illicit alteration of papyrus records would probably not have been difficult, many Egyptians recognized that placing records under the care of a ‘trusted’ custodian might offer some protection against allegations of tampering. In mid-first-millennium Egypt, it was common practice to deposit records of private legal transactions with a disinterested third party known as a ‛rbt ̠ or ‛rb.t (Darnell, 1990; Nims, 1938, 81–2). After the Greek incursion, a similar role was performed by individuals known as syngraphophylakes (‘protectors of writings’), who – like their Egyptian counterparts – had no official status, but were chosen to act as custodians by the parties to the transaction (Burkhalter, 1996, 294; Yiftach-Firanko, 2008, 208–9). Under the Ptolemies, a formal state-sponsored registration system was also introduced and operated alongside the private syngraphophylakes. Throughout Egypt, in the fully developed system, a room in a house in each village or group of villages was designated as a writing office (grapheion), where notaries created records of sales and other transactions for those who requested them. These offices also functioned as record repositories; the notaries retained duplicates of the documents they issued and also kept registers of their work. Larger repositories were established in local capitals, where registers of records were also maintained (Cockle, 1984, 112–13; Van Beek, 2013; YiftachFiranko, 2008, 209, 212–14). Most of these registers are now lost, but some fragments survive. Registration was promoted by the state and was eventually made compulsory for Egyptian-language records. It gave potential buyers of land a further means of verifying title and owners of land a further means of proving it. Scholars have also noted that registration procedures would have enabled the state to monitor ownership (Palme, 2009, 364; Yiftach-Firanko, 2009, 545). Facilities for depositing records with disinterested third parties seem to have developed more slowly in Mesopotamia than in Egypt, perhaps because the risk of illicit alteration of records was lower; tampering with a clay tablet would have been less easy than altering a papyrus record. Nevertheless, registration procedures are known to have operated in Mesopotamia after the incursion of Alexander the Great. Official registration of private transactions allowed the state to levy transaction taxes, and this may have been the prime

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reason for its introduction (Rostovtzeff, 1932, 58). At Dura-Europos on the river Euphrates in eastern Syria, a few fragments of registers have been found along with some original property sale records; it seems that the entire texts of such records were copied into the registers, rather than merely a summary as was often the practice in Egypt (Coqueugniot, 2013, 102–3). Scholars have assumed that registration of some types of transaction must have been made obligatory (Rostovtzeff, 1932, 66, 70). New practices were introduced where slave sales were concerned, and the use of clay tablets to record each sale was superseded by the use of parchment documents and the making of entries in an official register (Messina, 2009, 179; Stolper, 1989, 90–1). Scholarly analysis of excavation finds has revealed the construction of a growing number of public repositories for archives, often on a large scale, in cities across the Hellenistic world in the years after Alexander. According to archaeologist Sharon Herbert (2013, 210), these finds ‘range geographically from Carthage in the west to Seleucia-on-the-Tigris in the east, and in date from the mid-fourth century BC to the early first century AD’. The records once housed in these repositories have almost always been lost, but seal impressions formerly attached to the records sometimes survive. In some locations, seal impressions on clay were the only finds, and the existence of a repository has merely been inferred from the discovery of numerous seal impressions in a single location. Elsewhere, the surviving remains of a building have been identified as a repository. At Cyrene in Libya, for example, the remains of an archival building were found, and seal impressions were discovered within the building (Coqueugniot, 2013, 63–4, 86–8; Maddoli, 1963–4). To date, the largest numbers of seal impressions (and thus by implication the traces of the largest repository) have been found at Zeugma in eastern Turkey, where more than 100,000 impressions, mainly from the Roman era, have been unearthed (Coqueugniot, 2013, 150; Herbert, 2013, 210). The largest physical remains of an archival building known from the Hellenistic world are at Seleucia-on-the-Tigris in Iraq. The papyrus documents stored there perished long ago, but more than 25,000 seal impressions were found in the building, which had fourteen rooms and a capacity to house far more than 25,000 papyri; when it was ruined in a fire in the late second century BC, it appears to have held records covering 95 years (Bagnall, 2011, 41; Coqueugniot, 2013, 138; Herbert, 2003–4, 66; Invernizzi, 1996, 131). Scholarly studies written before the destructive civil war in Syria reported that the best-preserved Hellenistic repository was at Dura-Europos, where it was still possible to see some of the niches (or ‘pigeonholes’) in which the records were stored; graffiti surviving on the walls of the repository apparently indicated the storage locations for records of particular dates (Coqueugniot, 2013, 48, 101–20; Posner, 1972, 130–1). The archival repositories in cities such as Cyrene, Dura-Europos, and Seleucia were all centrally located, in or near the main agora or public meeting-place of the city.

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Perhaps the most notable feature that distinguishes many of these repositories from most of their known predecessors is the way in which they seem to have combined public and private roles. The numerous seal impressions found on the Greek island of Delos probably came from records in the custody of a banker or other individual who stored records for his clients in the tradition of the private syngraphophylakes (Bagnall, 2011, 48; Coqueugniot, 2013, 95), but most of the other Hellenistic repositories that have been traced appear to have been civic institutions. At Seleucia, according to archaeologist Antonio Invernizzi (2003, 314–15), the repository ‘was accessible to … citizens who wished or needed to preserve their documents, or copies of them, in it’; the numerous impressions of private seals found in the repository show that its holdings ‘were generally private deeds … which required the intervention of the public authority, at least for registration’. While many of the records held there appear to have been concerned with tax payments or exemptions, the size of the building at Seleucia suggests that it was intended to house a variety of archival materials, perhaps including records from the state or municipality as well as those deposited by individuals (Coqueugniot, 2013, 44, 139). Repositories provided by public authorities elsewhere in the Hellenistic world likewise seem to have preserved records of private transactions, offering secure storage while probably also facilitating taxation (Coqueugniot, 2013, 31, 107, 122). In some localities, repositories for private records were situated in temple complexes, or in buildings within an area that had once been a temple; in this way, perhaps, the archives were placed under the protection of the gods and any attempt to abuse them was rendered liable to divine wrath (Bagnall, 2011, 48; Coqueugniot, 2013, 34, 117). The notion that records might be publicly accessible also had its beginnings in Greece. The royal archives of pre-Hellenistic Egypt and Mesopotamia cannot have been easily accessible to anyone other than royal personages and officials. The Mesopotamians’ use of sealed rooms for the archives of kings and wealthy merchants indicates an overriding concern for security and the prevention of unauthorized access. In a second-millennium Egyptian lawsuit, one of the parties was able to request examination of records kept in ‘the Treasury’ and ‘the Department of the [royal] Granary’; although access to the records was granted on this occasion, it is clear that their retrieval required the permission of the vizier (Gardiner, 1905, 8–9). Records in early Mesopotamian and Egyptian repositories were kept, not for the benefit of the citizenry at large, but to protect the interests of those who made and kept them. In Athens, however, the state records in the Me-tro-on were almost certainly available to every citizen (Coqueugniot, 2013, 19; Pébarthe, 2006, 169; Sickinger, 1999, 161–2). Scholars believe that the holdings of most civic repositories elsewhere in Greece, and subsequently in Hellenized Egypt and south-west Asia, were also open for consultation by individual enquirers (Coqueugniot, 2013, 36; Rostovtzeff, 1932, 57). By the second century BC, when a substantial Roman presence was established in the eastern Mediterranean, both public and private record repositories

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existed throughout the region. The private archives of the Hellenistic kings are likely to have been tightly guarded, but local public repositories appear to have been widely accessible. They did not generally have reading rooms where records could be consulted, but their personnel probably responded to enquiries by supplying copies (Coqueugniot, 2013, 47). Civic officials and pleaders in the law courts were probably the most frequent users of these repositories, but other interested citizens, it appears, could also gain access to records of their communities.

Notes 1 See the examples quoted by Charpin (2010a, 151) and his suggestion that ‘many of our contemporaries had the same feeling when e-mail was invented’. 2 Many surviving early letters were stored by their recipients alongside other records. In the third-millennium Abusir temples in Egypt, letters were found together with accounts and duty rosters (Posener-Kriéger, 1986, 27, 29), and about 60 tablets ‘that may perhaps be characterized as letters’ were found alongside other records of third-millennium administration at Ebla in Syria (Michalowski, 1993, 12, 14; cf. Archi, 1986, 85). 3 Although some archivists deprecate the use of ‘archive’ and insist that only ‘archives’ is acceptable, most historians of the ancient world use ‘archive’ as the singular and ‘archives’ as the plural form; in this book, I have followed their example. 4 Accounting records recently discovered at Wadi al-Jarf are of even earlier date and are said to be ‘the oldest inscribed papyri … discovered in Egypt’ (Tallet and Marouard, 2014, 8). 5 In Egypt, rolled papyrus records sometimes had titles or abstracts inscribed on the exterior of the roll (Hagen and Soliman, 2018, 147; Quirke, 1996, 395). One secondmillennium papyrus record bears the number ‘947’, which has sometimes been interpreted as its number in a finding aid (Quirke, 1996, 395), but such numbering was not usual. 6 When so-called ‘certificates’ of births or deaths are found in Mesopotamia, their purpose seems to have been to confirm the status of new-born slaves or to remove the names of deceased workers from scheduled ration distributions. Lists of names that have sometimes been interpreted as birth registers or the like are almost certainly compilations made to administer military conscription. See Démare-Lafont (2014, 14, 18–19); Roth (1987, 718). Verifying parentage in Mesopotamia generally involved seeking testimony from elderly neighbours, not consulting written records (cf. Charpin, 2010a, 113). 7 The office of archo-n was a long-established civic position at Athens, but it had declined in importance before the Me-tro-on was established as an archival repository. In recent years, many cultural critics seeking to discuss archives – or ‘the archive’ – have taken their inspiration from Jacques Derrida’s affirmations about Greek ‘archontic’ powers, which supposedly illustrate the hegemonies implicit in what Derrida (1996, 2) called archivation or ‘archivization’. However, no Athenian archo-n is known to have played a part in managing the records held in the Me-tro-on. The secretaries responsible for the Me-tro-on were originally elected and later chosen by lot, and thus had impeccably democratic credentials (Pébarthe, 2006, 161–6; Sickinger, 1999, 140–2). 8 The Greek word archeion gave rise to the Latin word archivum and ultimately to the English word ‘archives’. According to Panos Valavanis (2002, 242–3), archeion

116 Creating and storing written records originally referred to a ‘body of administration’ or a building used for administrative purposes, but it had acquired its ‘present meaning’ by the first century BC and possibly as early as the third century.

References Allam, Schafik (2009) ‘Using Administrative Archives in Pharaonic Times’, in Patrizia Piacentini and Christian Orsenigo, eds., Egyptian Archives, Cisalpino. Angelucci, Patrizia (2008) Breve storia degli archivi e dell’archivistica, Morlacchi. Archi, Alfonso (1986) ‘The Archives of Ebla’, in Klaas R. Veenhof, ed., Cuneiform Archives and Libraries, Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut. Archi, Alfonso (2003) ‘Archival Record-Keeping at Ebla 2400–2350 BC’, in Maria Brosius, ed., Ancient Archives and Archival Traditions, Oxford University Press. Archi, Alfonso (2015) Ebla and Its Archives, De Gruyter. Baer, Klaus (1963) ‘An Eleventh Dynasty Farmer’s Letters to His Family’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 83 (1): 1–19. Bagnall, Roger S. (2011) Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East, University of California Press. Baines, John (2007) Visual and Written Culture in Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press. Bartash, Vitali (2020) ‘The Early Dynastic Near East’, in Karen Radner, Nadine Moeller, and Daniel T. Potts, eds., The Oxford History of the Ancient Near East, Volume I: From the Beginnings to Old Kingdom Egypt and the Dynasty of Akkad, Oxford University Press. Beckman, Gary (1996) ‘Emar and Its Archives’, in Mark W. Chavalas, ed., Emar: The History, Religion, and Culture of a Syrian Town in the Late Bronze Age, CDL. Benati, Giacomo, and Camille Lecompte (2016) ‘New Light on the Early Archives from Ur’, in Rolf A. Stucky, Oskar Kaelin, and Hans-Peter Mathys, eds., Proceedings of the 9th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, vol. 3, Harrassowitz. Boegehold, Alan L. (1972) ‘The Establishment of a Central Archive at Athens’, American Journal of Archaeology 76 (1): 23–30. Bradsher, James Gregory (1985) ‘Ebla’s Royal Archives’, Information Development 1 (4): 238–243. Burkhalter, Fabienne (1996) ‘Symbolophylax’, in Marie-Françoise Boussac and Antonio Invernizzi, eds., Archives et sceaux du monde hellénistique, École Française d’Athènes. Carawan, Edwin (2008) ‘What the Mnemones Knew’, in E. Anne Mackay, ed., Orality, Literacy, Memory in the Ancient Greek and Roman World, Brill. Ceccarelli, Paola (2013a) Ancient Greek Letter Writing, Oxford University Press. Ceccarelli, Paola (2013b) ‘The Use (and Abuse) of Letters in the Speeches of the Attic Orators’, in Uri Yiftach-Firanko, ed., The Letter: Law, State, Society and the Epistolary Format in the Ancient World, Harrassowitz. Ceccarelli, Paola (2019) ‘Economies of Memory in Greek Tragedy’, in Luca Castagnoli and Paola Ceccarelli, eds., Greek Memories, Cambridge University Press. Charpin, Dominique (2010a) Reading and Writing in Babylon, Harvard University Press. Charpin, Dominique (2010b) Writing, Law and Kingship in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia, University of Chicago Press.

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118 Creating and storing written records Hagen, Fredrik, and Daniel Soliman (2018) ‘Archives in Ancient Egypt, 2500–1000 BCE’, in Alessandro Bausi, Christian Brockmann, Michael Friedrich, and Sabine Kienitz, eds., Manuscripts and Archives, De Gruyter. Hall, Jonathan M. (2006) ‘Dark Age 1200–700 BC’, in Nigel Wilson, ed., Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece, Routledge. Hammond, Martin, ed. (2013) Arrian: Alexander the Great, the Anabasis and the Indica, Oxford University Press. Hansen, Mogens H. (1999) The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes, 2nd edn., Bristol Classical. Harris, William V. (1989) Ancient Literacy, Harvard University Press. Haussoullier, B. (1884) La vie municipale en Attique, Libraire des Écoles Françaises d’Athènes et de Rome. Hayes, William C. (1955) A Papyrus of the Late Middle Kingdom in the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum. Herbert, Sharon (2003–4) ‘The Hellenistic Archives from Tel Kedesh (Israel) and Seleucia-on-the-Tigris (Iraq)’, Bulletin of the University of Michigan Museums of Art and Archaeology 15: 65–86. Herbert, Sharon (2013) ‘Bullae’, in William Aylward, ed., Excavations at Zeugma, vol. 2, Packard Humanities Institute. Holtz, Shalom E. (2009) Neo-Babylonian Court Procedure, Brill. Huehnergard, John (2018) ‘Reading Ancient Mail’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 138 (4): 691–707. Invernizzi, Antonio (1996) ‘Gli archivi pubblici di Seleucia sul Tigri’, in Marie-Françoise Boussac and Antonio Invernizzi, eds., Archives et sceaux du monde hellénistique, École Française d’Athènes. Invernizzi, Antonio (2003) ‘They Did Not Write on Clay: Non-Cuneiform Documents and Archives in Seleucid Mesopotamia’, in Maria Brosius, ed., Ancient Archives and Archival Traditions, Oxford University Press. Jasnow, Richard (2003) ‘New Kingdom’, in Raymond Westbrook, ed., A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, vol. 1, Brill. Kwasman, Theodore, and Simo Parpola (1991) Legal Transactions of the Royal Court of Nineveh, Helsinki University Press. Lafont, Bertrand (2000) ‘Les textes judiciaires sumériens’, in Francis Joannès, ed., Rendre la justice en Mésopotamie: archives judiciaires du proche-orient ancien (IIIe– Ier millénaires avant J.-C.), Presses Universitaires de Vincennes. Lafont, Bertrand, and Raymond Westbrook (2003) ‘Neo-Sumerian Period (Ur III)’, in Raymond Westbrook, ed., A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, vol. 1, Brill. Larsen, Mogens T. (2008) ‘Archives and Filing Systems at Kültepe’, in Cécile Michel, ed., Old Assyrian Studies in Memory of Paul Garelli, Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten. Lion, Brigitte (2011) ‘Literacy and Gender’, in Karen Radner and Eleanor Robson, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture, Oxford University Press. Lippert, Sandra (2012) ‘Law Courts’, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, https:// Logan, Tom (2000) ‘The Jmyt-pr Document: Form, Function, and Significance’, Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 37: 49–73. Maddoli, G. (1963–4) ‘Le cretule del Nomophylakion di Cirene’, Annuario della Scuola Archeologica di Atene 41–42: 39–145.

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Maidman, M. P. (1979) ‘A Nuzi Private Archive: Morphological Considerations’, Assur 1 (9): 179–186. Malamat, Abraham (1986) ‘Doorbells at Mari: A Textual-Archaeological Correlation’, in Klaas R. Veenhof, ed., Cuneiform Archives and Libraries, Nederlands HistorischArchaeologisch Instituut. Margueron, Jean (1986) ‘Quelques remarques concernant les archives retrouvées dans le palais de Mari’, in Klaas R. Veenhof, ed., Cuneiform Archives and Libraries, Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut. Márquez Rowe, Ignacio (2006) The Royal Deeds of Ugarit, Ugarit-Verlag. Matthews, Roger (2013) ‘The Power of Writing: Administrative Activity at Godin Tepe, Central Zagros, in the Later Fourth Millennium BC’, in Cameron A. Petrie, ed., Ancient Iran and Its Neighbours, Oxbow. Matthiae, Paolo (1986) ‘The Archives of the Royal Palace G of Ebla’, in Klaas R. Veenhof, ed., Cuneiform Archives and Libraries, Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut. Matthiae, Paolo, (2013) ‘The Royal Palace’, in Paolo Matthiae and Nicoló Marchetti, eds., Ebla and Its Landscape, Left Coast. McDowell, A. G. (1990) Jurisdiction in the Workmen’s Community of Deir el-Medîna, Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten. McDowell, A. G. (1999) Village Life in Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press. Messina, Vito (2009) ‘Witnesses and Sealers of Seleucid Mesopotamia’, in Nicoletta Bellotto and Simonetta Ponchia, eds., Witnessing in the Ancient Near East, Sargon. Michalowski, Piotr (1993) Letters from Early Mesopotamia, Scholars. Michalowski, Piotr (2014) ‘The Presence of the Past in Early Mesopotamian Writings’, in Kurt A. Raaflaub, ed., Thinking, Recording, and Writing History in the Ancient World, Wiley-Blackwell. Michel, Cécile (2001) Correspondance des marchands de Kaniš au début du IIe millénaire avant J.-C., Éditions du Cerf. Missiou, Anna (2011) Literacy and Democracy in Fifth-Century Athens, Cambridge University Press. Morris, Ian (2005) ‘The Eighth-Century Revolution’, ~pswpc/pdfs/morris/120507.pdf Nims, Charles F. (1938) ‘Notes on University of Michigan Demotic Papyri from Philadelphia’, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 24 (1): 73–82. Palme, Bernhard (2009) ‘The Range of Documentary Texts: Types and Categories’, in Roger S. Bagnall, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology, Oxford University Press. Pébarthe, Christophe (2006) Cité, démocratie et écriture: histoire de l’alphabétisation d’Athènes à l’époque classique, De Boccard. Philip-Stéphan, Alexandra (2005) ‘Deux actes de disposition inédits découverts dans l’oasis égyptienne de Dakhla’, Revue historique de droit français et étranger 83 (2): 273–281. Porten, Bezalel (2003) ‘Elephantine’, in Raymond Westbrook, ed., A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, vol. 2, Brill. Posener-Kriéger, Paule (1986) ‘Old Kingdom Papyri: External Features’, in M. L. Bierbrier, ed., Papyrus: Structure and Usage, British Museum. Posener-Kriéger, Paule, Miroslav Verner, and Hana Vymazalová (2006) Abusir X, the Pyramid Complex of Raneferef: The Papyrus Archive, Czech Institute of Egyptology. Posner, Ernst (1972) Archives in the Ancient World, Harvard University Press.

120 Creating and storing written records Postgate, J. Nicholas (1992) Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History, Routledge. Postgate, J. Nicholas (2013) Bronze Age Bureaucracy: Writing and the Practice of Government in Assyria, Cambridge University Press. Quirke, Stephen G. (1996) ‘Archive’, in Antonio Loprieno, ed., Ancient Egyptian Literature: History and Forms, Brill. Robb, Kevin (1994) Literacy and Paideia in Ancient Greece, Oxford University Press. Rostovtzeff, M. (1932) ‘Seleucid Babylonia’, Yale Classical Studies 3: 1–114. Roth, Martha T. (1987) ‘Age at Marriage and the Household’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 29 (4): 715–747. Sebeok, Thomas A., and Donna J. Umiker-Sebeok (1976) Speech Surrogates, Mouton. Sickinger, James P. (1999) Public Records and Archives in Classical Athens, University of North Carolina Press. Sickinger, James P. (2013) ‘Greek Letters on Stone’, in Uri Yiftach-Firanko, ed., The Letter: Law, State, Society and the Epistolary Format in the Ancient World, Harrassowitz. Stolper, Matthew W. (1989) ‘Registration and Taxation of Slave Sales in Achaemenid Babylonia’, Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 79 (1): 80–101. Tallet, Pierre, and Gregory Marouard (2014) ‘The Harbor of Khufu on the Red Sea Coast at Wadi al-Jarf, Egypt’, Near Eastern Archaeology 77 (1): 4–14. Tanret, Michel (2011) ‘Learned, Rich, Famous, and Unhappy: Ur-Utu of Sippar’, in Karen Radner and Eleanor Robson, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture, Oxford University Press. Théodoridès, Aristide (1970) ‘Le testament dans l’Égypte ancienne’, Revue internationale des droits de l’antiquité 3e série, 17: 117–216. Thomas, Rosalind (1992) Literacy and Orality in Ancient Greece, Cambridge University Press. Tsouparopoulou, Christina (2017) ‘“Counter-Archaeology”: Putting the Ur III Drehem Archives Back in the Ground’, in Yag˘ mur Heffron, Adam Stone, and Martin Worthington, eds., At the Dawn of History: Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Honour of J. N. Postgate, Eisenbrauns. Valavanis, Panos (2002) ‘Thoughts on the Public Archive in the Hellenistic Metroon of the Athenian Agora’, Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts Athenische 117: 221–255. Van Beek, Bart (2013) ‘Kronion Son of Apion, Head of the Grapheion of Tebtynis’, Van de Mieroop, Marc (1999) Cuneiform Texts and the Writing of History, Routledge. Van den Boorn, G. P. F. (1988) The Duties of the Vizier, Kegan Paul. Van Soldt, Wilfred H. (2012) ‘Why Did They Write? On Empires and Vassals in Syria and Palestine in the Late Bronze Age’, in W. S. van Egmond and W. H. van Soldt, eds., Theory and Practice of Knowledge Transfer, Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten. Vanstiphout, Herman (2004) Epics of Sumerian Kings: The Matter of Aratta, Brill. Veenhof, Klaas R. (2003a), ‘Archives of Old Assyrian Traders’, in Maria Brosius, ed., Ancient Archives and Archival Traditions, Oxford University Press. Veenhof, Klaas R. (2003b) ‘Before Hammurabi of Babylon: Law and the Laws in Early Mesopotamia’, in F. J. M. Feldbrugge, ed., The Law’s Beginnings, Martinus Nijhoff.

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Veenhof, Klaas R. (2003c) ‘Old Assyrian Period’, in Raymond Westbrook, ed., A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, vol. 1, Brill. Veenhof, Klaas R. (2013) ‘The Archives of Old Assyrian Traders: Their Nature, Functions and Use’, in Michele Faraguna, ed., Archives and Archival Documents in Ancient Societies, Edizioni Università di Trieste. Villard, Pierre (1996) ‘L’archivage public des contrats de vente d’immeubles d’après les lois assyriennes’, Nouvelles assyriologiques brèves et utilitaires 1996 (2): 52–53. Vleeming, Sven P. (1993) Papyrus Reinhardt: An Egyptian Land List from the Tenth Century B.C., Akademie. Vulliet, Fabienne Huber (2011) ‘Letters as Correspondence, Letters as Literature’, in Karen Radner and Eleanor Robson, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture, Oxford University Press. Wente, Edward (1990) Letters from Ancient Egypt, Scholars. Westbrook, Raymond (2003) ‘Emar and Vicinity’, in Raymond Westbrook, ed., A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, vol. 1, Brill. Whitley, James (1997) ‘Cretan Laws and Cretan Literacy’, American Journal of Archaeology 101 (4): 635–661. Wilson, John Paul (2009) ‘Literacy’, in Kurt A. Raaflaub and Hans van Wees, eds., A Companion to Archaic Greece, Wiley-Blackwell. Yiftach-Firanko, Uri (2008) ‘Who Killed the Double Document in Ptolemaic Egypt?’, Archiv für Papyrusforschung 54 (2): 203–218. Yiftach-Firanko, Uri (2009) ‘Law in Graeco-Roman Egypt’, in Roger S. Bagnall, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology, Oxford University Press.

Chapter 6

Orality and literacy: confidence in records

Debates about the relative merits of orality and written communication have a long history. Some commentators have sought to depict oral cultures as nonauthoritarian or to emphasize their spontaneity, immediacy, or warmth. Some (e.g., Echo-Hawk, 2000) have commended the ability of oral traditions to preserve information about the past. Others, however, have noted how oral cultures tend to reshape the past to serve the needs of the present; past and present become fused, and aspects of the past that no longer accord with current beliefs and understandings fall into oblivion (Ong, 2002). In the Phaedrus, a philosophical dialogue composed about 360 BC, Plato compared writing unfavourably with the spoken word: the use of writing, he said, is a stimulus not to memory but to forgetfulness, because it makes people lose the mental ability to call things to remembrance; written texts cannot adapt to their audiences and are unable to reply when they are asked questions (Lier, 2019, 158–9, 163). By way of contrast, the Mozi, a Chinese philosophical work dating from approximately the same period, repeatedly affirmed the capacity of writing on bamboo, silk, metal, or stone to preserve knowledge and transmit it to posterity (Watson, 1964, 44, 90–1, 101). The relationship of writing to speech is considerably more complex than has sometimes been thought. Writing is often characterized simply as a surrogate for speech or a means of capturing speech on a stable medium, but its origins lay in a need to account for commodities, not in a need to capture spoken language. When writing on clay tablets was first developed in Mesopotamia, it must have been perceived as a mechanism additional to, rather than a direct representation of, speech. Nevertheless, later generations of Mesopotamians undoubtedly saw close connections between writing and oral language: expressions such as ‘the tablet’s speech’ and ‘the tablet’s mouth’ were widely used, and people sometimes spoke of ‘listening’ to a tablet (Charpin, 2010b, 50). It would be wrong to posit a natural or inevitable progression from unwritten to written record-keeping. In Greece, as we have seen, written records were employed by the Minoans and Mycenaeans, but writing subsequently disappeared from Greek society for more than 400 years after the collapse of the Mycenaean palace bureaucracy. Archaeologist Carl Lamberg-Karlovsky (2003)

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has drawn attention to a similar course of events in Elam (western Iran) about 5000 years ago, where written record-keeping practices were adopted from Uruk and then abandoned after a century or two. For a brief period, the culture of early Elam spread to other parts of Iran in a process that has sometimes been described as ‘colonization’; the Elamites exported their administrative procedures and recording methods to their colonies, but in each locality written record-keeping ceased when the colonists left and was not reintroduced until several centuries later (Lamberg-Karlovsky, 2003, 63). Communities that lacked, or had lost, complex social structures and centralized bureaucracies generally saw little need for writing. It is also possible to identify some fairly complex early societies – Troy is a well-known example – where writing seems never to have been used. In Crete, the absence of traces of Minoan writing in the Ierapetra district has been interpreted as evidence of a conscious disavowal of its use (Allen, 2017, 184). Sometimes, perhaps, there was no incentive for its adoption; sometimes, as Lamberg-Karlovsky (2003, 67) suggested, people accustomed to orality may have rejected the cultural ‘otherness’ in which writing existed. Some communities may also have perceived practical benefits in retaining more traditional methods. Where powerful neighbours used writing, refusal of literacy may have appeared to offer a means of resisting domination. In Peru after the Spanish conquest, many indigenous people who had learnt alphabetic writing continued to use khipus to make records, perhaps because they knew that khipus were largely unintelligible to Hispanic tax collectors (Hyland, 2017). Elsewhere, rulers may have seen political advantages in maintaining oral cultures, or the use of writing may have been limited in order to restrict knowledge and authority to members of an elite (cf. Goody, 1977, 151–2; Innis, 1972, 24–5). However, in investigating the making and keeping of records in early societies, we are not simply examining tensions between orality and writing: the ability to make records is not the same as, or coeval with, the ability to write. As we saw in earlier chapters of this book, record-making using elementary marks and symbols predated writing by many millennia. In a study that encompassed such marks and symbols as well as written characters, psychologist Merlin Donald (2001, 309) referred to them as ‘exograms’ or ‘external memory records’, to distinguish them from what he called ‘engrams’ or ‘biological memory records of the brain’. The transition from relying on biological memory alone to being able to call on the additional resource of a basic ‘exogram’ was no less critical than the later shift to written modes of recording. In societies where writing has come into use, written records almost always co-exist with, and often operate alongside, older and more traditional recording practices. In China, for example, a little less than 3000 years ago, when a man named Pengsheng acquired some fields and wished to document his acquisition, he had a mound built as a landmark and also had a bronze vessel made with a written inscription. The construction of a mound

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was doubtless a traditional way of recording rights to land; the written inscription, giving details of the transaction, was more innovative. Old and new methods were entangled: according to the inscription, Pengsheng’s two ‘scribes’ were responsible for shovelling the earth to build the mound (Li Feng, 2011, 284–5). In Mesopotamia, after the introduction of writing, tokens seem to have remained in use as aids to counting, although probably on a smaller scale than in the pre-writing era. Leather bags or clay envelopes containing tokens sometimes continued to be used for record-making, perhaps in small enterprises that saw no need for more complex forms of record. However, at least one of these later containers is known to have carried a written inscription on its surface (MacGinnis et al., 2014, 290; Schmandt-Besserat, 1992, 8–9, 114).1 In a broadly similar fashion, later Chinese wooden tallies – like those of medieval England – often bore written inscriptions that explained their content or context (Tsang Wing Ma, 2017, 325–8). As Frank Salomon (2004, 27) observed, ‘it would be pointless to deny that movement toward writing … is a repetitive course of history’. Nevertheless, even after the advent of literacy, people in many regions often continued to employ older methods of external record-making for long periods. In remote parts of Peru, for 400 years after the Spanish conquest, khipus remained in use, not only by non-literate herders, but also by village elders who knew that alphabetic writing could provide an alternative (Hyland, 2015, 1–3; Salomon, 2004). In many European countries, there is ample evidence of the enduring use of tallies in medieval and early-modern times, particularly by craft-workers and vendors of goods (Baxter, 1994; Ifrah, 2000, 65–6). Eventually, however, practices and techniques that originated in pre-literate eras succumbed to changing circumstances, and their use declined – or was renounced – as writing made them appear redundant. In Britain, the governmental use of tallies (which had long been a formality with little pragmatic value) was statutorily discontinued in the reign of King George IV (Baxter, 1994, 233); in rural Peru, the habit of using khipus seems to have gradually expired within the past 80 or 90 years (Hyland, 2016, 496–8; Salomon et al., 2016, 201–2). It is not the aim of this book to offer a detailed account of the continuing use of knotted cords, tallies, and other non-written recording devices in recent centuries, to trace the course of their decline in our own era, or to analyse the diversity of attitudes to writing and literacy in contemporary cultures. But the beginnings of the ‘movement toward writing’ as a ‘repetitive course of history’ can be seen in many of the early societies that are the book’s main focus. Scholars investigating a variety of historical settings have sought to explain why writing acquired its growing dominance and have often noted, for example, that a tally or a simple knotted cord does not easily convey meaning over time and distance. It can be effective if it is used only by people who know the circumstances of its making. However, when records are meant for use by third parties, tallies and knotted cords are less likely to be found

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satisfactory, because users may be unable to ascertain what the knots or notches were intended to signify. The adoption of written text helps to remove much of this ambiguity and allows records to be meaningful to wider audiences. There can be little doubt that people in many societies also became aware that writing enabled them to record a wider range of variables and to keep track of those variables in larger quantities. In non-literate societies in recent times, traders have often found that their ability to track the orders they have received and the debts they are owed is constrained by what Donald (2001, 305) called ‘the limitations of the brain’s biological memory systems’. At different times, many individuals have found that non-written modes of external record-keeping were more capacious than their memories, but a point was still likely to be reached when only writing, or a technology comparable to writing, could provide the capacity that was needed. Social anthropologist Jack Goody (1987, 144) reported that in Ghana, half a century ago, literate schoolboys were called on to use their writing skills to record transactions conducted by their non-literate elders. In rural India today, moneylenders who are unable to write sometimes ask a literate neighbour to create a written record of each loan they make, because they are aware that they will be unable to remember every transaction.2 On a larger scale, as communities grow, the use of writing helps to build economic relationships by allowing greater numbers of more complex transactions across wider distances and over longer periods of time. As literary scholar John Halverson (1992, 315) noted, the ‘preservative potentiality of writing’ means that ‘the amount of available information can increase far beyond the … capacity of human memory, individual or collective’. Another factor in many societies may have been a growing awareness that writing, in its developed form, enables the transmission and preservation, not merely of generic knowledge, but also of precise utterances. Whereas oral traditions are always under pressure to change, writing systems – as linguistic scholar Peter Daniels (1996, 3) observed – can ‘represent an utterance in such a way that it can be recovered more or less exactly without the intervention of the utterer’. In oral cultures, there is little possibility of, and usually no demand for, verbatim recall; oral accounts of past actions and events do not generally reproduce the exact words of previous speakers. When originators of messages begin to worry about the possibility that those who convey their messages may distort them, mechanisms to support verbatim recall become important. Recognition of advantages brought by writing rather than relying on oral messages can be seen in an episode from the Peloponnesian War recounted by the Greek historian Thucydides: after suffering reverses in Sicily, the Athenian military commander Nicias, wishing to send a report of events but fearing that messengers might misrepresent him, thought it best to compose a written letter, ‘to ensure that the Athenians should know his own opinion without its being lost in transmission’ (Ceccarelli, 2013, 143).

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As well as providing precise and ostensibly stable representations of messages intended for relatively short-term communication, writing allows utterances to be transmitted over more extended periods of time in their original modes of expression (O’Toole, 1989, 13; Urton, 2011, 4). As several scholars – from Samuel Johnson (1791, 257–8) to Michael Clanchy (1980–1, 115) and Randall Jimerson (2009, 26) – have noted, the oral traditions of a community or society perish when they cease to circulate continuously, but written records can remain decodable across generations, even if they are examined after a period of disuse or are rediscovered after being temporarily lost. Writing never wholly displaces orality. Wherever written records were adopted, oral modes of communication and evidence continued to be esteemed, and writing supplemented rather than supplanted human memory and verbal testimony. When writing was an innovation, it could not attract the levels of trust and confidence that older oral methods enjoyed. But in the burgeoning societies of south-west Asia and the eastern Mediterranean, as the capability of writing became more apparent and as confidence in it increased, writing practices came to be espoused more widely. Even sceptics could employ written texts: in fourth-century Athens, although Plato complained that writing diminished the abilities of the human mind, he made use of writing to express his complaints, and it is because he did so that we know of them. After more than 2000 years, we cannot usually expect to identify with any degree of precision the spurs and motivations that led people in these societies to use writing to create records on particular occasions in their lives. The historian’s account of the reasoning that led Nicias to make his report by means of a letter is a rare exception. But at a more general level we can examine the value that these societies attributed to written records and the growth of confidence in their deployment. Studying how long written records were kept and the range of uses that were made of them can help us to assess societal perceptions of their importance. In the following pages, this chapter explores varying attitudes to the retention and use of written records in southwest Asia, Egypt, and Greece, and examines growing expectations that such records would be created, kept, and found useful as testimonies of past actions and events. It also reviews the extent to which writing functioned alongside older practices in these societies; even as written records found their way into areas of life that were once the preserve of oral methods, many aspects of everyday behaviour continued to rely on human witnesses and mental recollection.

Records retention and use in south-west Asia and Egypt in the third, second, and first millennia As might be expected, much of our evidence comes from Mesopotamia. In Mesopotamian temples and palaces, written records of accounting and routine

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administration were often kept only for short periods. At the early-second-millennium palaces at Shemsha-ra and Tell Leilan, the surviving administrative and accounting records are almost all from a single year (Eidem, 2011, 13), and it must be assumed that earlier records of this kind had already been destroyed or discarded in antiquity, presumably following an annual destruction cycle. At some other locations, records were kept for longer: at Nippur, in the late third millennium, records seem to have been kept for three or four years (Taylor and Cartwright, 2011, 303), and more extended retention periods for administrative or accounting records have been noted elsewhere. Decisions that records should be preserved even for brief periods imply an awareness of their practical worth: a recognition that the records can be expected to be useful in the short term, even if their usefulness may diminish with the passage of time. We do not know how frequently records of this kind were consulted, but we sometimes hear of records being loaned from one official to another or used in connection with inspection regimes (Foster, 1986, 48–50; Steinkeller, 2003, 47–8, 51–2; cf. Hagen and Soliman, 2018, 98–9). In Egypt, we have brief references to the use of records in verifying food allowances and in tracking goods consigned to ships as cargo (Wente, 1990, 104, 120). In both Egypt and Mesopotamia, accountants are known have to used records of individual administrative transactions to compile monthly or annual summaries (Posener-Kriéger, 1986, 27, 30; Steinkeller, 2003, 44, 51). In late-third-millennium Mesopotamia, an accountant might work with 400 or more clay tablets, each recording an individual delivery of goods, which he would abstract and summarize on a single large tablet (Van de Mieroop, 1999–2000, 112). Although modern scholars have not been able to reconstruct every aspect of accountability procedures, they have inferred that senior officials examined the summaries or the detailed records of individual transactions to monitor the work of their juniors. Some scholars affirm that Mesopotamian ruling elites may have used data from administrative records for centralized economic planning, but the hypothesis that written records were used for this purpose is highly debatable (Jursa, 2004, 180–5; Steinkeller, 2004, 79; Woods, 2015, 138–40). Landowners used records to monitor their tenants or labourers, but not (as far as we know) to analyse the yields from their investments or to identify potential improvements to the management of their estates. The use of records in military planning, however, can be inferred from surviving evidence from secondmillennium Mari. We have already noted king Zimrı--Lı-m of Mari writing to his steward with instructions to retrieve records; the records that he required on that occasion were lists of individuals liable to military service, and it seems almost certain that he wanted to use these lists to assess the forces he could mobilize in an imminent campaign (Charpin, 2010b, 40). We have occasional further glimpses of the value that kings and rulers attached to written records. In Anatolia in the second millennium, a Hittite king acknowledged the confirmatory power of records when he wrote that his messengers should not be trusted unless their spoken words matched what

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had been written on the tablets they carried (Hoffner, 2009, 52). In similar fashion, another Anatolian king, Tarḫunta-radu of Arzawa, was suspicious of a message delivered orally by an Egyptian messenger and asked for it to be confirmed on a written tablet (Hoffner, 2009, 270–1). A late-second-millennium Egyptian literary papyrus tells the story of Wenamun, who was sent by the temple of Amun at Karnak to acquire timber from the Phoenician city of Byblos. The king of Byblos refused to supply the timber without payment, but had ‘the daybook rolls of his fathers’ read out, to show Wenamun how much previous purchasers had paid and to remind him that timber from Phoenicia always came at a price (Eyre, 2013, 318; Lichtheim, 1976, 226). Although this episode is almost certainly fictional, it indicates that Egyptians of this era recognized that records could be used effectively to demonstrate precedents. The Hittite kingdom supplies two further examples. Before agreeing to a proposed marriage between a Hittite prince and a queen of Egypt, the Hittite king Šuppiluliuma I sent for a treaty record, presumably to learn about previous diplomatic relations between the Hittites and the Egyptians (Assmann, 2011, 216–17). A treaty recorded on a clay tablet also features in a fragmentary Hittite text in which a vassal ruler was peremptorily exhorted to make a close examination of the tablet in question and thus to contemplate whether he had breached the terms of the treaty (Alexandrov and Sideltsev, 2009, 60–1). Unsurprisingly, perhaps, records of treaties with neighbouring rulers tended to be kept longer than other records in royal archives. One of the five treaties surviving from the palace at Tell Leilan is about two decades older than the other records found at this site (Eidem, 2011, 325). Treaty records found in the palace at Ugarit covered a period of about 50 years (Van Soldt, 1999, 37), and the Hittite treaty retrieved by Šuppiluliuma I seems to have been almost a century old (Van den Hout, 2002). Potentially, a treaty record could supply evidence of the making of alliances, commitments, and concessions that might be of value to the ruler in the more distant as well as the immediate future. A treaty of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria in the seventh century BC, contained instructions for its recipient to guard the treaty record and invoked an extensive list of unpleasant fates to be divinely imposed – ‘may Anu, king of the gods, let disease, exhaustion, malaria, sleeplessness, worries, and ill heath rain upon your houses … may [the god] Šamaš remove your eyesight …’ – if the recipient should ‘consign it to the fire, throw it into the water, … or destroy it by any cunning device’ (Parpola and Watanabe, 1988, 45). Curses, invoking divine wrath on anyone who breaks an agreement, are a common feature of Mesopotamian legal documents, but Esarhaddon’s list of curses is exceptionally long (running to more than three pages in the modern printed edition); Esarhaddon was doubtless aware that even treaty records were eventually likely to be discarded, but the inclusion of these deterrents suggests that he wished this particular record – and, more importantly, the terms of the commitments that it represented – to be preserved indefinitely.

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In second-millennium Anatolia, the Hittites often placed treaties – written on tablets of metal – in temple sanctuaries where the gods would watch over them (Van den Hout, 2014, 179–80). In Egypt, a record of a treaty between Ramesses II and the Hittite king Ḫattušili III was inscribed on stone to publicize its contents and make its preservation more secure (Langdon and Gardiner, 1920). Letters, too, were sometimes kept for longer than routine administrative records. Like most modern correspondence, the earliest letters were written primarily with a view to transmission of instructions or information across space rather than preservation over time. Because Mesopotamian and Egyptian letters did not usually bear dates, it has sometimes been thought that their writers paid little heed to the possibility of long-term retention (cf. Charpin, 2010a, 103; Wente, 1967, 1). In practice, however, many recipients chose not to destroy letters immediately upon receipt. There is evidence that kings of Mari, or their officials, safeguarded letters received while travelling, so that the letters could be added to the palace archives when the travellers returned to Mari (Sasson, 2015, 3). Many individuals of lower rank also stored letters alongside other records. Some second-millennium Mesopotamian letters concluded with a request or instruction that the recipient should preserve the letter (Charpin, 2013, 52–4), and the same practice has been noted in Egypt (Eyre, 2013, 100) and the Hittite realm (Weeden, 2014, 41). There is also evidence that Egyptian temple administrators and scribes sometimes kept copies of the letters they sent to others (Eyre, 2013, 321–3). Letter-writers who urged recipients to preserve a letter often affirmed that it would serve as evidence of authorization for an action the recipient was asked to perform (Eyre, 2013, 98, 176; Oppenheim, 1967, 190–1; cf. Charpin, 2013, 52–4). In other cases, however, someone who decided to retain a letter (or a copy of a letter) may have valued it simply as a reminder of what the sender had written, rather than for its potential role as evidence. It has also been suggested that Mesopotamians may sometimes have chosen to keep letters or other records for sentimental reasons (Tanret, 2008), but this remains open to doubt. During the excavation of the royal palace at Mari, parts of the correspondence of three successive kings were found. Assyriologist Jean-Marie Durand (2002, 29–30) suggested that, in preserving the letters of his predecessors, king Zimrı--Lı-m of Mari had displayed an interest in maintaining historical memories of their reigns, but such claims must be treated with caution. Zimrı--Lı-m had certainly kept, or at least failed to destroy, much of his predecessors’ correspondence, but we should not assume that he was interested in preserving historical knowledge for its own sake. In general, records in the ancient world were kept only for as long as their owners saw practical benefit in retaining them; notions that they might warrant further retention for historical or cultural purposes belong to a much later age. As at Mari, the surviving letters from the palace at Tell Leilan extend over a wider range of years than the accounting records (Eidem, 2011, 13), and it is reasonable to suppose that

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palace officials saw administrative reasons for retaining them for a marginally longer time period. Letters, of course, were received and kept by private individuals as well as rulers. They were particularly important to individuals involved in long-distance trade, such as the Assyrian merchants at Kaneš in Anatolia, who stored letters alongside other business records in secure accommodation. Assyrian merchants seem to have made frequent use of the records they kept, adding new records to those already in storage, requesting that records be retrieved for examination, and often showing concerns about records’ safety and protection (Veenhof, 2013, 55–6). The value that a merchant attached to his records is demonstrated by the precautions he took when he was travelling and records had to be transported to him at a distant location; we know that, in such circumstances, merchants might give instructions for records to be entrusted to reliable carriers and carefully packaged to prevent damage (Veenhof, 2003, 101). Individuals who did not participate in long-distance trade may not have needed to use written records so frequently, but record-keeping could still be important to them. Besides letters, the archives of prosperous Mesopotamian individuals and families often included receipts, loan records, adoption records, partnership agreements, apprenticeship contracts, or copies of court judgements (Baker, 2003, 242; Larsen, 1989, 138). These records all served as evidence that specific rights or obligations existed or had been fulfilled. However, the records most widely kept by private individuals related to the acquisition of property, whether by purchase, gift, exchange, or inheritance. Records of this kind could provide property owners with evidence of title and could therefore remain useful over extended periods of time; because of their continuing evidential role, they tended to be preserved for longer than other kinds of records. In a property transaction, records of previous transfers were passed on as ‘title deeds’ to the acquirer of a house or a piece of land. Property owners held not only the records of the transactions they had conducted personally, but also collections of deeds recording earlier conveyances of the properties in question: deeds that had once been in the possession of the previous owners (Charpin, 2010b, 53–69).3 Over time, a collection that began as the archive of an individual often developed into the archive of a family, as children inherited records from parents and added further records of their own. Such collections often encompassed a long span of years. Whereas surviving palace archives rarely extend over more than 40 years, Dominique Charpin has noted that, in Babylonia: family archives often cover a period of one or two centuries, up to six generations. Among the finest examples … [are] those of Ur-Utu in Sippar (eighteenth to seventeenth centuries BC) and those of the Egibis

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(seventh to fifth centuries BC) …. For the most part, they contain property deeds which were transmitted across the generations. (Charpin, 2010a, 101) Deeds would be removed from a collection when a property was sold, but deeds of properties that remained in the same family were retained indefinitely. The records kept by Ur-Utu – the son of the dirge-singer Inana-mansum whom we met in Chapter 5 – included deeds that were 200 years old in Ur-Utu’s lifetime (Veenhof, 1986, 30). Records of this kind were preserved so that they could be invoked to confirm individual rights, especially in the event of a dispute in a court of law. In Mesopotamia, we first hear of records being brought into court in the final century of the third millennium, as evidence of house purchase and of slave manumission (Lafont, 2000, 60; Lafont and Westbrook, 2003, 196). We do not know precisely how and when the practice of long-term preservation of personal and family records first developed, but we may assume that it was a result of a growing recognition of their potential legal value.4 In later legal disputes, documents of considerable age were sometimes adduced: Mesopotamian courts of Ur-Utu’s era were able to refer to sale records dated 52 and even 170 years earlier (Charpin, 2000, 72; Veenhof, 1986, 30). In Egypt, too, records could be used to confirm rights or title to property. An early-second-millennium Egyptian will includes a copy of an earlier document recording a property transfer, and an inscription of roughly similar date mentions the use of a written record to confirm a claim to priestly office (Jasnow, 2003, 268). Most court cases almost certainly relied on oral testimony, but later in the same millennium, in a dispute heard before the vizier, ‘land registers’ were consulted and both parties brought documents of their own into court (Gardiner, 1905, 8; cf. Allam, 1989; Eyre, 2013, 155–62).5 It appears that, in second-millennium Egypt under Ramesses II, a legal record of the examination of witnesses dating from the reign of Horemheb about half a century earlier, and possibly land transfer records from the reign of Ahmose I about three centuries earlier, could be located and presented in court as evidence (Gardiner, 1905, 8, 11, 30–1; cf. Allam, 1989, 107). Creating written records, keeping them for possible future use, and bringing them into court all imply a level of confidence that records can serve an effective purpose. In practice, however, when written records were still relative novelties, courts of law often treated them with some ambivalence. In Mesopotamia, the courts of late-third-millennium Girsu kept records of their own business, but judges do not seem to have used them; the only records that the judges are known to have scrutinized were those presented to the court by litigants (Lafont and Westbrook, 2003, 184, 196). In an account of a secondmillennium legal dispute from Babylonia, we are told that one of the parties produced the deed of sale of a house ‘and the judges read it, and questioned the witnesses who were written in the deed’, according to a modern

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translation (Postgate, 1992, 279). The judges seem to have been reluctant to rely on the written record without supporting oral testimony. In a dispute in northern Mesopotamia about failure to honour an agreement to build a wall, the text of the agreement was available, but the judges appear to have decided the case by interrogating the parties; they consulted the written record only to confirm the penalty. They found that a payment of one cow for ‘contesting’ the agreement had been stipulated when the agreement was made, and they duly awarded a cow to the plaintiff (Lion, 2000, 145–6). It has been suggested that judges or litigants in the third millennium may have perceived written records, not so much as supplying evidence in themselves, but primarily as aides-mémoire that could be used in identifying and summoning the individuals who had witnessed the original transaction (Postgate, 1992, 285–6). Even in later times, when notions of the evidentiary role of records were perhaps more firmly established, courts were often equivocal in their practices. For example, scholarly analysis of legal disputes at Emar in the late second millennium has shown that, although many records included affirmations that ‘the document will defeat any future claims’, courts nevertheless often preferred witness testimony to written evidence (Westbrook, 2003a, 662). Individuals facing legal claims or litigation sometimes showed more confidence in the efficacy of written records. In the second millennium, a Babylonian woman said that she would not claim her inheritance until she had gained access to records kept by her father; a Babylonian official went to consult ‘the old clay tablets from the temple of Nisaba’ so that he could cite them in support of his claim to tenure of a field; an Assyrian man facing a dispute about debts declared that he needed to fetch his tablets from another city to defend his case (Charpin, 2010b, 40; Hertel, 2013, 386; Jacquet, 2013, 76–7). In a Babylonian letter concerning a land-ownership dispute, the writer (Ibbi-Sumuqan) stated that he had inspected the land-sale record bearing the vendor’s seal and the names of five witnesses, and he was confident that if the purchaser produced the record in court (‘if he shows this tablet to the judges’), the court would uphold the purchaser’s right to the land. We do not seem to know whether the court’s final verdict justified Ibbi-Sumuqan’s confidence, but we know that in another Babylonian lawsuit of the same era the court upheld a purchase of land when Narâmtani, the niece of the deceased purchaser, produced the record of its conveyance (Charpin, 2000, 72, 77). In a second-millennium divorce case from Babylonia, the witnesses to Geme-Asalluhi’s marriage were asked to testify about her dowry. They avowed that they knew a dowry had been given when the marriage took place, but they could no longer remember the precise amount (Charpin, 2010a, 170–1). Like Narâmtani’s case, where it seems all the witnesses had died, cases such as Geme-Asalluhi’s divorce suit must have drawn the attention of the courts to the limitations of oral testimony and the potential value of making and keeping written records. Nevertheless, according to Assyriologist Nicholas Postgate (1992, 275, 282), no known Mesopotamian law code

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defined requirements for legally valid transactions or identified the kinds of evidence acceptable to the courts. The famous second-millennium law code of Hammurabi recognized many situations where written records were created, but it did not lay down rules for their use in what we might now consider a systematic fashion. However, Postgate (1976, 11) believed that Mesopotamia evolved requirements for particular kinds of transaction to be documented in writing. About 400 years after Hammurabi’s code, laws in the city of Aššur and its neighbourhood appear to have required purchases of land to be recorded on clay tablets and stipulated that anyone lodging a counter-claim to the land should provide written evidence of their entitlement (Driver and Miles, 1935, 315–18, 429–31). By the first millennium BC, Mesopotamian courts were able to assume that certain transactions would be supported by written documentation as a matter of common practice. A Babylonian defendant accused of stealing animals claimed that a shepherd had entrusted the animals to him, but the court convicted him on the grounds ‘that he failed to show itemized, written proof of the alleged transaction’ (Oelsner et al., 2003, 923–4). In another first-millennium case from Babylonia, the court asked the defendant to show a record of his manumission from slavery, but the defendant admitted that no such record existed, and the judges pronounced that he was still enslaved (Holtz, 2014, 70–3). In a third case, a tablet documenting the incurring of a debt was read aloud in court, and the judges then asked the debtor for written proof that the debt had been repaid. The debtor was unable to provide this; the court found against him, transferred some of his land to his creditor, and issued a sealed tablet confirming its verdict (Holtz, 2014, 125–8; Wunsch, 2002, 243). Despite fluctuations in periods of political or economic disruption, recordkeeping practices in much of south-west Asia continued to flourish. In Anatolia in the early years of the second millennium, the records kept by the Assyrian merchant Šalim-Aššur and his family comprised about 1100 tablets, including a substantial number of letters as well as legal and business records (Larsen, 2010). At Sippar in northern Babylonia, Ur-Utu seems to have possessed as many as 2500 tablets (Tanret, 2011, 270). Ur-Utu’s records were clearly important to him: we have evidence that, when his house caught fire, he or a member of his household hastened to a storage room to try to rescue some of his tablets (Janssen, 1996, 239). Institutional archives, as might be expected, were often considerably larger than those of families and individuals. The largest known from ancient Mesopotamia is the archive of the Ebabbar temple at Sippar. According to a scholar who has studied the Ebabbar records, the earliest date ‘from the reign of Kandala-nu to roughly the middle of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (roughly 635–580 BC)’ and the archive ‘breaks off in the second year of Xerxes (484 BC)’; between these dates, the work of the temple generated more than 30,000 tablets, mainly ‘receipts, lists, and administrative notes documenting the flow of goods … and monitoring the assignment of labour and resources’ (Jursa,

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2011, 194). No-one knows precisely how many written records survive from across the Mesopotamian world; the total must run to many hundreds of thousands, and these can be only a small proportion of those that once existed. Some scholars believe that the extent of record-keeping – and perhaps also levels of confidence in the power of written words – may have been lower in Pharaonic Egypt. According to Egyptologist Christopher Eyre (2013, 341), ‘formalization of private documentary procedures … in Egypt was probably less than that of the great trading cities of Mesopotamia, and the writing medium … less amenable to use as … witness’. In practice, the relatively meagre survival of records from Pharaonic Egypt makes it almost impossible to assess how many records may once have existed or how far they were used in resolving disputes. Nevertheless, there are indications that written documents gradually acquired a strengthened evidential role, both in legal contexts and in Egyptian society more widely. The second-millennium ‘Duties of the Vizier’ included a requirement that petitions (to the vizier or perhaps directly to the king) should be put in writing (Van den Boorn, 1988, 193). Eyre (2013, 116–20) argued that further changes in attitudes to documents occurred in the late Pharaonic period, when records of agreements began to include clauses stating that the parties would be unable to contest what had been written, and witnesses began to add their signatures or extracts of a record’s content in their own handwriting. In the fifth century BC, a seller of land in Egypt felt able to advise a buyer to keep a legal document so that it could be produced in court in the event of a dispute (Yaron, 1961, 31). By Ptolemaic times, judges in Egypt had no compunction about scrutinizing documentary evidence and passing judgement on the basis of written records. A third-century text known as the ‘Legal Manual of Hermopolis’ (which appears to derive from a codification of Egyptian property laws) stipulated that disputes over lessees’ payments were to be resolved by examining written receipts (Donker van Heel, 1990, 37). Marriage settlements of the Ptolemaic era explicitly stated that a wife might use the settlement record as evidence of her husband’s obligations. When couples divorced, the husband often gave his wife a repudiation document to enable her to prove that she was free to re-marry (Pestman, 1961, 37, 73–4). In Ptolemaic law courts, litigants routinely relied on written petitions and supporting documents when presenting or defending their case (Gagarin, 2008, 239–40). Record-making for administrative and official purposes also expanded. A government office in Egypt in the third century BC is known to have used 434 rolls of papyrus in a period of 33 days (Muir, 2009, 56–7). By the early years of the Roman empire, the writing office of a small provincial town in the north of Egypt registered about 700 legal documents every year (Hopkins, 2018, 372). In southern Egypt under later Roman rule, a local official

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sometimes sent as many as seventeen letters in a single day and employed six writers to produce them (Palme, 2009, 375). In Ptolemaic and Roman times, writing was seemingly ubiquitous in Egypt, and the use of written records was commonplace.

Written records and oral practices Nevertheless, both in south-west Asia and in Egypt, literate habits continued to co-exist with older methods and practices that relied on oral communication and the memory of witnesses. Almost universally, as we have seen, the growth of writing eventually marginalized the use of tokens, tallies, and other earlier forms of external record-keeping; but writing did not eliminate orality, and the increasing deployment of written records never wholly superseded more traditional ways of testifying and remembering. In second-millennium Mesopotamia, local councils of village elders created and kept no records, although letters were sometimes addressed to them by higher authorities, which suggests that someone in each village was expected to be literate (Postgate, 1992, 276–7). Mesopotamian craft manufacture also functioned without written records, except when it was undertaken by or came into contact with the state administration (Postgate, 1992, 229, 232–6). Interfaces between craft manufacture and administration were also interfaces between orality and writing, as can be seen in a letter from Ba-bu-aḫa-iddina, a royal official at Aššur, to a subordinate administrator: Instruct Ilu-ki-abiya the leather-worker as follows: ‘Make one pair of boots in the Assyrian mode, and one pair … in the Katmuhaean mode’. Read out the tablet before him and appoint witnesses to his words. (Postgate, 2000, 213) In the hierarchical bureaucracy of Aššur, a senior official did not give orders directly to a craftsman but instructed a literate subaltern to perform this task. Written and oral modes co-existed: the instruction was transmitted and recorded in writing, but the leather-worker was obviously assumed to be nonliterate, since the tablet was to be read out to him. The possible need for proof of the worker’s response was dealt with, not by writing his words on a further tablet, but by summoning witnesses to retain a memory of them. At Ebla in the third millennium, only transactions involving the palace were normally recorded in writing; as far as we know, transactions between private individuals were not usually documented (Archi, 2015, 228). In Aššur and its neighbourhood in the second millennium, the laws – as we have seen – apparently specified that private land purchases were to be recorded on clay tablets, but there were also legal requirements for an oral proclamation of each transaction by a herald (Driver and Miles, 1935, 429–31). Although recording of land purchases eventually became common practice throughout south-west

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Asia and Egypt, tenancy agreements and leases seem not to have been recorded at second-millennium Nuzi and Ugarit, and many leases are believed to have remained undocumented in Egypt in the first millennium (Maidman, 1979, 181; Manning, 2003, 847–8; Márquez Rowe, 2006, 103). Loans and debts in Mesopotamia were often recorded in writing, but transactions of this kind sometimes relied only on a witnessed oral agreement (Hertel, 2013, 371–2). Throughout the region, purchases and sales of items of low value took place without written documentation. When disputed transactions came before Mesopotamian courts, the testimony of witnesses was sought and the evidential role of written records might be acknowledged, but the courts could also employ other judicial practices that modern scholars sometimes label as ‘suprarational’. In Babylonia, for example, in the reign of Hammurabi, when neither records nor witnesses were available in a dispute between Ahum-waqar and his brother Puzur-Gula, the judges ordered Puzur-Gula to swear a solemn oath in the name of the gods (Charpin, 2000, 78). Another ‘suprarational’ judicial procedure was the river ordeal, which was presumably a survival from pre-literate times. Its precise nature is not known, but it is clear that claimants had to undergo some kind of immersion in the waters of the Tigris or Euphrates to ‘prove’ their case (Frymer-Kensky, 1981; cf. Bottéro, 1981). In an early-first-millennium Assyrian dispute, although Urdu-Nana-ia held a written record that he had paid for two slaves, he was obliged to undergo a river ordeal to convince the court (Radner, 2003, 891). Ordeals were preceded by the swearing of an oath, and the solemn oath and the river ordeal eventually seem to have merged into a single procedure. The use of ordeals in Mesopotamia continued for more than 1000 years after written records were first introduced into the legal process. In the societies discussed in this chapter, even disputes about the authenticity of written records were often resolved using traditional oral methods. We know of two cases in which Mesopotamian courts established authenticity by examining seal impressions (Liebesny, 1941, 131), and it appears that legal documents in the Hittite kingdom could be declared invalid if they were improperly sealed (Arie et al., 2011, 13). But sealing was not universally relied on to support authentication. In Pharaonic Egypt, use of seals was normally a matter of choice, and the primary purpose of sealing seems to have been to deter unauthorized access to sealed records; if forgery was alleged, assessments of authenticity usually relied on testimony from witnesses. In the Ptolemaic era, Egyptian law stipulated that even sons and daughters of witnesses could be summoned and made to swear an oath about a record’s genuineness (Depauw, 2014, 95; cf. Lippert, 2012, 2–3). In Mesopotamia, too, when the authenticity of records was challenged, the question often seems to have been resolved by calling witnesses or swearing oaths (Badamchi, 2016, 4–5; Westbrook, 2003b, 373). Both Mesopotamia and Egypt achieved the capacity to encode spoken language in written form and the ability of a proportion of their people to

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understand such encodings and employ them to record activities and events. Both societies displayed growing confidence in using written records as aids to memory or sources of evidence; both had legal systems that acknowledged records’ evidential affordances and sometimes recognized that writings can be more reliable than mental recollection or oral testimony. Measures to detect forgery of records are a further indicator that records were perceived as valuable; no-one is likely to have troubled to forge a written record in a society where written records carried little weight. But neither Mesopotamia nor Egypt fully surrendered its oral culture to what Donald McKenzie (1999, 81) called ‘the presumed fixities of the written … word’. Trust in records and willingness to prioritize them require a long acquaintance with their affordances. In Egypt, according to Christopher Eyre (2013, 346), written records never acquired more prestige than spoken words. Mesopotamians, too, sometimes displayed suspicion or doubt when records were put to the test. Even when written records had been used in Mesopotamia for more than two millennia, many Mesopotamians preferred to employ purely oral techniques, or techniques that acknowledged writing but did not give it primacy.

Tradition and innovation: Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece Some critics have chosen to see writing, or least alphabetic writing, as ‘a scar that marks the cultural violence of colonial rule’, as Dana Leibsohn (2009, 67) remarked of Spanish-occupied Mexico. But the story of the introduction and proliferation of written records in Mesopotamia and Egypt is not a postcolonial narrative of a European invader forcibly imposing alien systems of documentation on indigenous people and seeking to marginalize or eradicate oral modes of behaviour to which these people were accustomed. We must assume that Mesopotamians and Egyptians were willing adopters of written methods of record-keeping. They were subject to no foreign coercion, and they invented and refined these methods themselves in a world where no such methods had previously existed. Although we can only guess at their thinking, we cannot suppose that the leaders of these societies acted irrationally when they embraced writing. As John Baines (2007, 146) observed in his study of written culture in early Egypt, ‘writing either was devised to extend existing possibilities of communication … or was invented because existing unwritten channels … were perceived as inadequate … or both’. There are obvious parallels with the transition, in our own time, from analogue to digital technologies: a transition not imposed by force or violence, but widely embraced because of its perceived advantages. Like the earlier shift to writing, the shift to the digital has disrupted but not wholly superseded older techniques. It is often argued that technological innovation initially favours those in positions of power, who are able to use new technologies in ways that enhance their own authority. We need not doubt that, in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and elsewhere, the initial impetus to adopt written record-keeping came from the

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ruling classes. The stimulus to make records is older than the formation of states, but writing emerged at a time when centralized states were consolidating their supremacy, and the growth in record-keeping that it enabled opened further possibilities for administrative control. Even the earliest written records, compiled before spoken language could be encoded in writing, allowed rulers to control the inputs and yields of agriculture, ensure that they received the share of produce they wanted for themselves, limit the amounts available to workers, and monitor the actions of officials charged with moving or receiving goods. The advent of the ability to write continuous prose, which enabled the exchange of letters and the writing of more complex reports, permitted state supervision on a larger scale. As Assyriologist Mogens Larsen (1988, 188) noted, in Mesopotamia ‘at the … end of the third millennium, … single documents could regulate transactions involving tens of thousands of persons, and at the same time the loss of half a pound of wool … would be discovered and accounted for with a frightening inevitability’; administrative recordkeeping at this period was dense and pervasive, and its ‘potential … as a controlling device was realized to the full’. In Pharaonic Egypt, too, although the surviving evidence is sparser, it seems that the growth of record-keeping enabled central administrations to monitor the transmission of goods in a way that ensured control of large numbers of economic units. In its earliest forms, written record-keeping was a device that served the interests of the elite. The accountability that it offered was only the accountability of the subordinate to the superior, the field worker or junior official to the dignitaries of the temple or palace. Accountability in the modern sense of governments and powerful officers of state being held accountable to their peoples was wholly absent; Mesopotamian and Egyptian societies were in no sense democratic, and notions that record-keeping could support transparent rule or provide evidence of responsible government were unknown. Nevertheless, others besides the ruling elite found ways to benefit from the new recording technologies. The evolution of fuller forms of writing that could encode spoken language enabled merchants to keep letters and detailed accounts that supported the expansion of their business, and householders to keep title deeds that safeguarded their claims to the property they owned. As written record-keeping became more widespread, it ceased to be purely a means of buttressing the position of those already at the apex of power. Legal uses of records were initially slow to emerge and long remained less pervasive than administrative uses, but they eventually became unexceptional. Classical scholar William Harris (1989, 334–5) probably summed up the view attained by many people in the ancient world when he observed that ‘being able to read documents … and being able to write … did not guarantee anything, but it was better than being unable to do so’. Writing, Harris noted, can be an instrument of hegemony and domination, especially over people who are nonliterate; but when the ability to use it became more extensive, it also helped

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citizens to maintain their rights and gave at least some of them a degree of security that they would otherwise have lacked. How far down the social hierarchy these advantages were felt is less clear; to the poorest and least educated, written records must have remained inaccessible and alien. But the benefits of record-keeping did not remain restricted to state institutions or narrow elites. In Assyria in the first millennium BC, many artisans – including tanners, goldsmiths, doorkeepers, and oil-pressers – kept records of the property they owned (Larsen, 1989, 139). Both in Mesopotamia and in Egypt, records played an important part in social and economic life for a large portion of the urban population. Where there was continuing reluctance to recognize their affordances, this may have been attributable, not to cultural resistance to an imposed technology, but to uncertainty about the limits of what written record-keeping could achieve and about how individuals could best take advantage of it. In many ways, it is tempting to see a more modern understanding of recordkeeping in the Athenian democracy. Citizens of Athens almost certainly had free access to the records of the state housed in the Me-tro-on. We cannot be sure that these records were consistently organized or well-maintained, but – as James Sickinger (1999, 74) observed – the Athenian state certainly recognized that its ‘business … merited some degree of preservation in writing’. Decrees of the assembly and other records were often copied onto stone ste-lai, which were erected in public places in the city (Hansen, 1999, 11–12; Sickinger, 1999, 64). Individual citizens, or orators speaking on their behalf, could use records to uphold their rights at law, and pleaders in Athenian courts often referred to records in support of their arguments. All Athenian officials were accountable to the public and had to submit to audit procedures; at the end of their term of office, they were required to provide written accounts of the funds they had expended.6 These accounts were often compiled in minute detail, and any citizen who wished could verify the smallest transactions (De Ste. Croix, 1956, 25–6; Finley, 1985, 41; Hansen, 1999, 222–3). In practice, Athenians did not always call on the records that were available to them. When an individual’s citizenship status was challenged, it was usually verified by summoning other citizens as witnesses; although written registers existed, they were not invariably consulted (Faraguna, 2014, 178–9; Haussoullier, 1884, 20–3). The merits of examining records for legal purposes were sometimes discussed by orators in court cases, but the arguments put forward were purely circumstantial: an orator seeking to persuade a court of the credibility of a human witness might contend that writing could be falsified and only oral testimony would be reliable, while an orator wishing to cast suspicion on a witness might claim that inspecting a written record would enable the court to know precisely what had happened at some moment in the past (Gagarin, 2008, 197–201). Initially, courts tended to insist that records should be supported by human witnesses, but over time the role of witnesses became dispensable, and requirements were introduced that any evidence

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provided by witnesses must be put in writing before a trial (Pringsheim, 1955; Rubinstein, 2000, 72). Nevertheless, records were not always created in circumstances where they might have been expected. For example, some decisions at meetings of the Athenian assembly required a quorum, apparently of 6000; a record could have been made of everyone who entered the meeting-place, to allow officials to count numbers and ensure that the quorum had been obtained, but for many years the quorum seems to have been verified merely by providing a meetingplace that accommodated 6000 people and no more; only in the fourth century were more formal methods of counting and record-keeping employed (Hansen, 1999, 130–1). When a young man had his name put forward for inscription in a deme register, his eligibility was not verified from records but was assessed by asking his neighbours to vote on whether he seemed to have reached the lawful age (Faraguna, 2014, 177). The military commander Nicias, as we saw earlier in this chapter, decided that he needed to submit a crucial report in the form of a letter, but sending such letters appears to have been unusual (Ceccarelli, 2013, 143); it seems that fifth-century military officers normally sent campaign reports by instructing emissaries to convey verbal messages. Classical Athens was a society with a literate culture, at least in the sense that dramas and histories were composed in writing, but the Athenians did not always create written records even when they would have found it relatively simple to do so. In everyday practice, as modern records managers know, interest in creating and maintaining formal records tends to be sporadic, with bursts of initiative and enthusiasm appearing amidst vast oceans of apathy. In Mesopotamia, inscribing records on clay was not easy; in Egypt, buying papyrus was not cheap. In both regions, record-making could be costly for people who had to commission professional scribes to compose records on their behalf. Even at state level, the volume of record-making and record-keeping fluctuated over time; as far as we can tell, later Mesopotamian bureaucracies kept records less comprehensively than those of the late third and early second millennia. Greek city-states were relatively small societies where conducting business orally was seldom difficult and the use of writing will often have seemed unnecessary. In the modern world, if actions can be taken without recording them, many people are happy to dispense with the task of record-making, especially when it seems onerous, expensive, or inessential. There is no reason to suppose that the ancient world was any different. Much of its business (like much of ours) was always conducted orally; written records were made and kept, but usually only when the perceived benefits outweighed the perceived effort or expense.

Notes 1 Long after the first appearance of writing, a Mesopotamian accounting record combined a leather bag, presumably containing tokens, with a written clay tablet: a tablet from c.2000 BC provides part of an account relating to oxen and explains

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2 3


5 6


that ‘the remaining part of the account is held in the leather pouch’ (SchmandtBesserat, 1992, 9). I am grateful to Howard Jones for sharing his personal knowledge of Indian village moneylenders, November 2018. In Mesopotamia, this practice is first attested in the early second millennium (Charpin, 2010b, 53–69). It is attested in Egypt in the first millennium (Pestman, 1983, 281–7). At later dates, similar practices were widespread in early-medieval Europe, in late-medieval and post-medieval England, and elsewhere. Long-term retention of records in Mesopotamia was always confined to the safeguarding of rights. No-one, and no institution, kept records for long periods for purposes of scholarly research. Not until Greco-Roman times do we perhaps find the beginnings of long-term preservation for historical or antiquarian reasons: in Athens, a document purporting to be the original indictment of Socrates was still housed in the Me-tro-on five centuries after his trial (Sickinger, 1999, 132, 189, citing Greco-Roman biographer Diogenes Laertius). The ‘land registers’ examined in this dispute were probably surveys made for taxation and revenue purposes, of the kind discussed in Chapter 5; see Eyre (2013, 159, 183). The arguments put forward by some late-twentieth-century scholars, notably Rosalind Thomas (1989), that Greek record-keeping in the fifth century BC was rudimentary have now largely fallen out of favour. In their studies of Athenian archives, James Sickinger (1999) and Christophe Pébarthe (2006) showed that there is considerably more evidence for written record-keeping, and for literacy in general, than Thomas had allowed.

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Palme, Bernhard (2009) ‘The Range of Documentary Texts: Types and Categories’, in Roger S. Bagnall, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology, Oxford University Press. Parpola, Simo, and Kazuko Watanabe (1988) Neo-Assyrian Treaties and Loyalty Oaths, Helsinki University Press. Pébarthe, Christophe (2006) Cité, démocratie et écriture: histoire de l’alphabétisation d’Athènes à l’époque classique, De Boccard. Pestman, Pieter W. (1961) Marriage and Matrimonial Property in Ancient Egypt, Brill. Pestman, Pieter W. (1983) ‘Some Aspects of Egyptian Law in Graeco-Roman Egypt’, in E. van ’t Dack, P. van Dessel and W. van Gucht, eds., Egypt and the Hellenistic World, Studia Hellenistica. Posener-Kriéger, Paule (1986) ‘Old Kingdom Papyri: External Features’, in M. L. Bierbrier, ed., Papyrus: Structure and Usage, British Museum. Postgate, J. Nicholas (1976) Fifty Neo-Assyrian Legal Documents, Aris and Phillips. Postgate, J. Nicholas (1992) Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History, Routledge. Postgate, J. Nicholas (2000) ‘Assyrian Felt’, in P. Negri Scafa and P. Gentili, eds., Donum Natalicium, Borgia. Pringsheim, Fritz (1955) ‘The Transition from Witnessed to Written Transactions in Athens’, in Juristischen Fakultät der Universität Basel, Aequitas und Bona Fides, Helbing & Lichtenhahn. Radner, Karen (2003) ‘Neo-Assyrian Period’, in Raymond Westbrook, ed., A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, vol. 2, Brill. Rubinstein, Lene (2000) Litigation and Cooperation: Supporting Speakers in the Courts of Classical Athens, Franz Steiner. Salomon, Frank (2004) The Cord Keepers, Duke University Press. Salomon, Frank, Gino de las Casas, and Victor Falcón-Huayta (2016) ‘Storehouse of Seasons and Mother of Food: An Andean Ritual-Administrative System’, in Linda R. Manzanilla and Mitchell S. Rothman, eds., Storage in Ancient Complex Societies, Routledge. Sasson, Jack M. (2015) From the Mari Archives: An Anthology of Old Babylonian Letters, Eisenbrauns. Schmandt-Besserat, Denise (1992) Before Writing: Volume I: From Counting to Cuneiform, University of Texas Press. Sickinger, James P. (1999) Public Records and Archives in Classical Athens, University of North Carolina Press. Steinkeller, Piotr (2003) ‘Archival Practices at Babylonia in the Third Millennium’, in Maria Brosius, ed., Ancient Archives and Archival Traditions, Oxford University Press. Steinkeller, Piotr (2004) ‘The Function of Written Documentation in the Administrative Praxis of Early Babylonia’, in Michael Hudson and Cornelia Wunsch, eds., Creating Economic Order: Record-Keeping, Standardization, and the Development of Accounting in the Ancient Near East, CDL. Tanret, Michel (2008) ‘Find the Tablet-Box: New Aspects of Archive-Keeping in Old Babylonian Sippar-Amnanum’, in R. J. van der Spek, ed., Studies in Ancient Near Eastern World View and Society, CDL.

146 Confidence in records Tanret, Michel (2011) ‘Learned, Rich, Famous, and Unhappy: Ur-Utu of Sippar’, in Karen Radner and Eleanor Robson, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture, Oxford University Press. Taylor, Jon, and Caroline Cartwright (2011) ‘The Making and Re-Making of Clay Tablets’, Scienze dell’antichità 17: 297–324. Thomas, Rosalind (1989) Oral Tradition and Written Record in Classical Athens, Cambridge University Press. Tsang Wing Ma (2017) ‘Scribes, Assistants, and the Materiality of Administrative Documents in Qin–Early Han China: Excavated Evidence from Liye, Shuihudi, and Zhangjiashan’, T’oung Pao 103–105: 297–333. Urton, Gary (2011) ‘Their Way of Writing’, in Elizabeth Hill Boone and Gary Urton, eds., Their Way of Writing: Scripts, Signs, and Pictographies in Pre-Columbian America, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library. Van de Mieroop, Marc (1999–2000) ‘An Accountant’s Nightmare: The Drafting of a Year’s Summary’, Archiv für Orientforschung 46–47: 111–129. Van den Boorn, G. P. F. (1988) The Duties of the Vizier, Kegan Paul. Van den Hout, Theo (2002) ‘Miles of Clay: Information Management in the Ancient Near Eastern Hittite Empire’, Van den Hout, Theo (2014) ‘Two Old Tablets: Thinking, Recording, and Writing History in Hittite Society’, in Kurt A. Raaflaub, ed., Thinking, Recording, and Writing History in the Ancient World, Wiley-Blackwell. Van Soldt, Wilfred (1999) ‘The Written Sources’, in W. G. E. Watson and N. Wyatt, eds., Handbook of Ugaritic Studies, Brill. Veenhof, Klaas R. (1986) ‘Cuneiform Archives: An Introduction’, in Klaas R. Veenhof, ed., Cuneiform Archives and Libraries, Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut. Veenhof, Klaas R. (2003) ‘Archives of Old Assyrian Traders’, in Maria Brosius, ed., Ancient Archives and Archival Traditions, Oxford University Press. Veenhof, Klaas R. (2013) ‘The Archives of Old Assyrian Traders: Their Nature, Functions and Use’, in Michele Faraguna, ed., Archives and Archival Documents in Ancient Societies, Edizioni Università di Trieste. Watson, Burton (1964) Basic Writings of Mo Tzu, Hsün Tzu, and Han Fei Tzu, Columbia University Press. Weeden, Mark (2014) ‘State Correspondence in the Hittite World’, in Karen Radner, ed., State Correspondence in the Ancient World, Oxford University Press. Wente, Edward F. (1967) Late Ramesside Letters, University of Chicago Press. Wente, Edward F. (1990) Letters from Ancient Egypt, Scholars. Westbrook, Raymond (2003a) ‘Emar and Vicinity’, in Raymond Westbrook, ed., A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, vol. 1, Brill. Westbrook, Raymond (2003b) ‘Old Babylonian Period’, in Raymond Westbrook, ed., A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, vol. 1, Brill. Woods, Christopher (2015) ‘Contingency Tables and Economic Forecasting in the Earliest Texts from Mesopotamia’, in Paul Delnero and Jacob Lauinger, eds., Texts and Contexts: The Circulation and Transmission of Cuneiform Texts in Social Space, De Gruyter. Wunsch, Cornelia (2002) ‘Debt, Interest, Pledge and Forfeiture in the Neo-Babylonian and Early Achaemenid Period: The Evidence from Private Archives’, in Michael Hudson and Marc van de Mieroop, eds., Debt and Economic Renewal in the Ancient Near East, CDL. Yaron, Reuven (1961) Introduction to the Law of the Aramaic Papyri, Clarendon.

Chapter 7

Orality, record-making, and social action

Because records are persistent representations of events in the world, people use them, with varying degrees of confidence, to trigger recollection or gain knowledge of events that might otherwise seem to lie beyond their reach. While both representations and events are always open to differing interpretations, representations help to shape memories of events and to preserve those memories over time. The use of records to look back at what happened in the past is not simply a phenomenon of our own era. As we saw in the previous chapter, many people in ancient Mesopotamia made frequent use of records of earlier events to support current administration, property rights, or commercial enterprise. Record-using, however, depends on record-making. A record can be used to look back to a particular event because the circumstances of the record’s creation were intimately connected to that event. When a record is used later in its life, record and event may seem distinct: the record exists in the present, whereas the event that it represents lies somewhere in the past. But at the moment when a record comes into being, the representation and the event are inextricably linked. In previously published work (Yeo, 2017), I argued that records are performative: they are instruments through which events are occasioned, actions performed, and interactions achieved in particular social contexts. In the words of sociologist Marc Berg (1996, 500), ‘the creation of the representation … is … involved in the event it represents’. Like the use of records to trigger recollection or gain knowledge of past events, the relationships between record-creation and events are not merely phenomena of our own time. In early societies, too, the making of records was always closely linked to events, performances, and social actions. Although at first sight concepts of performativity may appear to be rooted in present-day modes of thinking, it does not seem inappropriate to enquire into their relevance to cultures distant from our own. In investigating the performativity of record-making in early societies, this chapter draws on ideas and concepts derived from the theory of ‘speech acts’. Developed by philosophers J. L. Austin (1962) and John Searle (1979), speech-act theory reminds us that, in speaking or writing, humans perform certain kinds of act. For example, when people in English-speaking cultures

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utter the words ‘I apologize’, they perform an act of apologizing; an apology is brought into being by virtue of the words they use. Different speech acts are encountered in different societies, but language is performative wherever it is found. Austin – who coined the word ‘performative’ (1962, 6) – argued that to give an order, ask a question, state a proposition, or make a promise is to perform an act. Searle promulgated the term ‘speech acts’ and proposed a taxonomy that has influenced the work of many other scholars. He identified five categories of speech act (Searle, 1979, 12–20): assertives, in which people state propositions about how things are, were, or will be; directives, in which they ask questions or get other people to do things; commissives, in which they undertake to do things themselves; expressives, in which they express their feelings or attitudes; and declaratives or declarations, in which they effect changes in the world (for example, by declaring war, divorcing a spouse, adopting children, or transferring ownership of property). In many respects, the term ‘speech acts’ – although widely used by contemporary philosophers and scholars of linguistics – does not seem well-chosen for the purposes of this chapter. Propositions can be stated, orders given, and many other kinds of act performed by means of spoken words, but for several millennia it has also been possible to perform such acts by means of writing. Many so-called ‘speech acts’ can also be performed by non-linguistic means. An act of declaring war, for example, can be performed by the use of words (‘We declare war on you’), but in Sumatra two centuries ago it was performed by transmitting physical objects such as scored pieces of wood; among the Yoruba in Nigeria, wars were declared by sending bows and arrows to the enemy (Ifrah, 2000, 64; Ojo, 2013, 49). In many societies, a war or conflict can be terminated by communicating a spoken or written message (‘We surrender’), but an act of surrender can also be performed non-linguistically (for example, by waving a white flag). Although I follow philosophical convention by referring to the theory – or, perhaps more correctly, the body of interrelated theories – as a theory of ‘speech acts’, this chapter investigates its application beyond spoken language, in the developing realm of external record-making. Findings of uniformity across time or space are not to be expected in an investigation of this kind. As interdisciplinary scholar Walter Ong (2002, 167) noted, it is possible – and perhaps likely – that ‘commanding, protesting, and other … [speech] acts do not mean quite the same thing in an oral culture that they mean in a literate culture’. The range of acts undertaken, the understandings of their meanings, and the forms invoked to achieve them are almost certain to vary from one society to another. Nevertheless, linguistic researchers tell us that all known spoken languages can be used to make assertions, ask questions, or issue instructions (Roberts, 2018, 319–20). Despite considerable cultural variation at local level, it appears that acts in these broad categories can be performed by means of language in every human society. Assertive and

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directive speech acts can be achieved by anyone with the relevant linguistic skills. Commissive and declarative acts, however, seem to be less ubiquitous. They depend not only on possession of language skills but also on social conceptions such as rights, obligations, or responsibilities. Phenomena of this kind exist only by virtue of collective acceptance (Searle, 2007, 93) and have been understood in very different ways by different people at different times. Historically, the making of assertions, asking of questions, and issuing of instructions were almost certainly among the first uses of speech acquired by our early ancestors. Speech acts that rely on acknowledgement of rights or obligations presuppose more complex social conditions, and we may assume that they developed later than those whose effectiveness requires only an understanding of language. In the Western world, legal systems have long shown an interest in some categories of speech act, particularly those relating to rights and obligations, and have sometimes insisted that acts of this kind must be performed in writing if they are to be considered legally valid. Diplomatists and historians of Western law use the term ‘dispositive’ to describe written records that effect an action using a legally recognized form of words (Duranti, 1998, 65). But in earlier times, when writing was a new technology, its capabilities must have been a matter for exploration and contestation; some of the performative aspects of written records began to win acceptance only after many centuries of tentative development. This chapter examines the changing relations between record-making and human action, and the gradual emergence of records’ performative capabilities in early societies.

Early speech and early writing Scholars have sometimes argued that the earliest forms of human communication are likely to have been expressive or directive. One suggestion is that exclamations of pleasure or pain may have begun to function as audible signs for pleasurable or painful experiences (Fetzer, 2005, 48). It has also been suggested that alerting, encouraging, and entreating – forms of communication that appear to be used by apes – were critical elements in the early development of spoken language (Fetzer, 2005, 48–9; Mithen, 2006, 118–20, 172). If these arguments are correct, expressive and directive forms preceded the first human acts of assertive speech. Another view, also inspired by the wider animal world, is that early spoken language perhaps mixed assertive with directive acts. Researchers have noted that African vervet monkeys make different kinds of alarm call when threatened by different predators and that other vervets respond appropriately; the apparent ‘meaning’ of these calls (‘A leopard is nearby; run up a tree!’; ‘An eagle is nearby; hide in the bushes!’) arguably combines assertive and directive components (Anderson, 2004, 168–73, 190–1). Although suggestions that animal signals can

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assist in elucidating human speech acts (Beynon-Davies, 2010; Horn, 1997) remain controversial, it does not seem impossible that the first human languages might have worked in a manner broadly similar to the vervets’ calls. The gestures that our early ancestors presumably used before they developed speech may sometimes have conveyed composite messages such as ‘I want your help; come here’ or ‘This ground is marshy; walk carefully’, and the earliest forms of speech perhaps also combined elements of assertion and instruction in single utterances. From such beginnings, spoken language eventually developed to a point where more complex assertions could be made about present and past events. Many tens of thousands of years later, the earliest exograms may have taken a broadly similar trajectory. From a speech-act perspective, strings tied to fingers, message-sticks, wooden memory-boards, and other prompting or cueing devices can plausibly be understood as unwritten ‘directives’. Many of them function as directives addressed to oneself: ‘do not forget to fix the tool that was broken’; ‘when delivering the message, remember to mention that our people need more grain’; ‘when reciting the history of our nation, do not forget to tell the audience about the day when the king wed his bride’. Scholars have suggested that many early written texts in Mesoamerica were likewise intended, not as complete messages in themselves, but as prompts for songs, recitations, or other oral discourses; reciters could expand and embellish the tales they told, but the text guided the recitation and signalled the critical elements of the discourse (Diel, 2012, 875). Viewed as records, these devices and texts may again seem to combine directive with assertive acts: the Mesoamerican inscription – and, arguably, the memory-board – can both assert that ‘the king did this’ and also instruct a user to ‘tell your listeners what the king did’. However, records used for accounting purposes seem more distinctly assertive. When people in early societies became increasingly concerned with counting things, such records served to make and preserve assertions about quantities. In many non-literate communities around the world, tallies or knotted-cord records have been used to communicate assertions about quantitative states of affairs (how many things are in store; how many are available for use) or transactions (how many things were received; how many were issued to someone else). The earliest records that used written language were also assertive. Many were assertions about acts that had already taken place by other means. Inscriptions on Chinese bronzeware – ‘Bo Ju made this precious vessel’ (Wen Fong, 1980, 212) – and on Runic stones – ‘Hróarr erected this stone in memory of his father’ (Spurkland, 2008, 328) – are assertions about aspects of the past, as are the monumental inscriptions that people in many early written cultures erected to commemorate rulers or notable achievements. Written records from the proto-cuneiform era in Mesopotamia and from early Aegean societies are of an assertive nature: typically, the writers of these records asserted the presence of specific goods, livestock, or people, or asserted that

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specific movements or transactions had occurred. The Shang divination records in China can also be seen as assertive: they were not used to pose questions to the oracle, but stated – as propositions – the substance of questions that had already been asked. With the development of letter-writing, people began to record longer and more detailed assertions. In Mesopotamia and Egypt, early letters often contained a multiplicity of assertions about the writer’s activities or about other events. For example, in a letter to his superior officer written in the second millennium BC, an Egyptian cattle-overseer asserted that: I am carrying out … every assignment that has been charged to me …. I travelled to the region of Heracleopolis. I met … retainer Piay and Prince Iotefamon’s retainer as they were bringing six of the people who had been in the jail … (Wente, 1990, 31) Other written records reported words that people spoke, or were supposed to have spoken, on specific occasions. In the record of a second-millennium court case at Alalakh about a disputed inheritance, the writer, presumably a scribe of the court, stated that: Abba’e-l brought legal suit against his sister Bittatti, declaring: ‘The entire house belongs to me only; you, Bittatti, are not … an heir in this house’. Thus replied Bittatti: ‘In the city, … I am indeed reckoned as an heir in the estate of my mother’ …. They entered upon legal proceedings before King Niqmepa …. The king declared: ‘Within the house let Abba’e-l take his share …’ (Ben-Barak, 2006, 186–7) In records such as these, we can see record-creators making assertions that particular events have taken place or particular words have been spoken. We also see that, in every instance, the act of creating the record was separate from the acts that the record-creator sought to describe. When letters were composed, a variety of directives – questions, requests, or orders – could also be put in writing. One of the earliest surviving letters from Egypt is a request for help for a palace attendant (Wente, 1990, 56–7). Later Egyptian and Mesopotamian letters include numerous questions (‘what has the fortress-commander done with the cargo?’), requests (‘send me silver … so that I can buy barley and … not be hungry’), and orders (‘as soon as my letter reaches you, you are to … fence in the pasturage’) (Veldhuis, 2012, 14; Wente, 1990, 120, 202). Inka khipus, too, may sometimes have conveyed orders. In recording tribute, as we saw in Chapter 4, khipus seem to have been used not only to account for payments that had been made but also to encode the demands issued by high-

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level officials. If this is correct, we can postulate that a ‘demand’ khipu combined assertive and directive elements: it asserted a proposition (‘these are the tribute requirements that have been assessed for your village’) at the same time as it conveyed an order (‘you are to supply the amounts required’). Some records in Mesoamerica and in early Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Aegean may have worked in a similar way: for example, the ration lists that are often found among early written records in Mesopotamia and the Aegean may have served simultaneously as statements of agreed entitlement and as orders to issue rations to those entitled to them. Again, from a speech-act perspective, the boundary between assertive and directive appears porous. In later written orders, when fluency in writing had become more widespread, more complex instructions could be given, and assertive aspects became less conspicuous. For example, in a letter to a subordinate, about 1290 BC, the Egyptian military standard-bearer Maiseti wrote: Round up the soldiers in the villages in your vicinity …. Keep them occupied with the steeds … until I reach Memphis …. Procure especially fine workmen …. Fetch the sow which Neby will give you … (Wente, 1990, 115) The contents of this letter (and many others like it) appear to be purely directive. Maiseti’s words are not assertions describing orders that he has given verbally on a separate prior occasion; his orders are issued by means of the letter itself. The act of creating the record is integral to the act of instructing. Records that depend on making assertions about past activities or events seem to work in a different way. Because they are constructed separately from the activities or events they describe, they are open to possibilities of distortion, error, or deliberate falsification. In Han-dynasty China, despite the promulgation of statutes that decreed punishments for failing to make accurate records, record-creators sometimes made written statements that they knew to be untrue; this was often done with a view to tax avoidance, but occasionally in an attempt to conceal malpractice (Barbieri-Low and Yates, 2015, 797–9, 1245–6; Hsing I-tien, 2014, 183). Modern scholars have noted that, in Mesopotamia, assertions made in one record are sometimes contradicted by assertions made in another (Radner, 2014, 90–1; Westbrook, 2003, 67). Assertive records have also always been open to selective presentation of events in the interests of political expediency: Chinese diviners recorded the king’s forecasts when they proved correct, but not when they were erroneous (Keightley, 2014, 220, 237); Mesoamerican inscriptions named important captives taken from the enemy, while ignoring occasions when enemies were triumphant (Marcus, 1992, 360). Factors such as these can affect our responses to the content of a record and our interpretation of its accuracy or reliability. Consider the letter from

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the Egyptian cattle-overseer to his superior officer, which we met briefly earlier in this chapter. Here is a longer extract: This is a missive to inform my lord that I am carrying out properly and efficiently every assignment that has been charged to me. A further communication to my lord: … I travelled to the region of Heracleopolis. I met … retainer Piay and Prince Iotefamon’s retainer as they were bringing six of the people who had been in the jail …. Should these retainers be interrogated in Memphis to ascertain whether it was Merenptah … who gave the orders to bring them? … (Wente, 1990, 31) The letter contains a number of assertions but also asks a question. If we are sceptical, we may choose to doubt the truth of the assertions. Was the overseer really carrying out every one of his assignments ‘properly and efficiently’, as he claims? Has he really been to the region of Heracleopolis? We cannot be certain. But we can be much more confident that he has asked the question about interrogating the retainers, simply because the act of asking was performed by means of the letter in which the question is recorded. There is, however, a further aspect of his letter that invites our confidence. We may note his use of the phrases translated as ‘this is a missive to inform …’ and ‘a further communication …’; phrases of this kind are common in Egyptian correspondence. They draw to our attention that, in writing the letter, the overseer performed acts of informing or communicating – acts that speech-act theorists would call ‘assertive’ – as well as an act of asking a question. Unless the letter is a forgery, anyone who reads it can be confident that the overseer has performed these acts; regardless of our view of the truthfulness of his assertions, we need have little doubt that he has asserted them.

Performativity and promising The uses of spoken language in oral cultures are not confined to giving instructions, asking questions, and making assertions. Speech can, for example, have important functions in the performance of magic and ritual. According to Walter Ong (2002, 173–4), speech in an oral culture tends to be ‘performance-oriented, … a way of doing something to someone’. Writing in a similar vein about early oral societies, linguistic scholar Douglas Robinson affirmed that performative words: might be thought of as the primary tool of animistic religion. I speak, and it comes to pass. I … pronounce … the spell which I cast upon you, and you are suddenly … healed. I invoke a … spirit, and it appears – not in response to my summons, but in it, or through it. The tribe sings …

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victory over an enemy, and the enemy is defeated; the performative magic generates the … strength the tribe needs to emerge victorious. (Robinson, 2003, 30) Scholars such as these draw on the performative emphasis of Austin’s work, but apply it to early spoken language in a way that is very different from Austin and Searle. Of course, simpler uses of language (‘come here’; ‘walk carefully’) can be assumed to have preceded its use in invoking spirits or attempting to ward off sickness. At an early date, spoken language will also have been used to communicate other assertive and directive messages: ‘our enemies are coming’; ‘attack them now’; ‘we have defeated them; rejoice!’. But the work of Ong and Robinson offers a valuable reminder that, over time, human speech is likely to develop a multiplicity of uses, and that oral cultures have often sought to use its potency in distinctive ways. The performative aspects of language in the earliest human societies almost certainly did not extend to commissive and declarative speech acts as we know them today. In Western societies in our own age, the magical functions of language have largely become marginalized, while its commissive and declarative functions are taken for granted. Few people today are likely to be bewildered by notions that words can be used to make promises, impose obligations, or convey privileges. But, even in recent times, these uses of language have not been universal. Researchers have shown that, in Samoa and Tonga and among the Ilongot people of the Philippines, acts – and concepts – of promising were unknown before Europeans arrived (Duranti, 2015, 71–6; Korn and Korn, 1983; Rosaldo, 1982). In the ancient world, too, the practice of using language to perform commissive and declarative acts was slow to develop, both in speech and, much later, in the creation of written records. Today, acts of promising – whether in speech or in writing – commit the promisor to a particular course of conduct and thus create obligations. But it is almost certain that the earliest forms of obligation in oral cultures did not arise from promises. Initially, senses of obligation may have emerged simply from awareness of the consequences of physical actions: doing something that injures one’s neighbour gives rise to an obligation to compensate, and receiving something to one’s benefit imposes an obligation to reciprocate. In societies with notions of property, obligations could sometimes be created by means of a gift. Gifts were, and often still are, seen as a source of obligation in many places around the Pacific Ocean (Sehgal, 2015, 75–86). Among indigenous peoples in parts of North America, acceptance of a gift of wampum placed the recipient under an obligation (Justice, 2015, 300–1). In property-owning societies, loans also create obligations, in the form of debts to be repaid. It seems clear that obligations arising from voluntary commitments about future conduct, or from the mere use of words, were later developments. We do not know the extent to which people in the distant past spoke about the

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future, but we know that some early languages, like some languages today, lacked a future tense; if people needed to refer to the future, they generally used the present tense. Few early languages appear to have had a word approximating to ‘promise’. It is possible that many early people shared the view of some non-Western societies today, that verbal allusions to future conduct may be hubristic or impious (Hull, 2012, 142). Scholars have also suggested that, in early times, most individuals lacked sufficient discretion over the future direction of their lives to allow them to enter into voluntary commitments (Fried, 1981, 2). Generating obligations through the use of language alone almost certainly first occurred in the context of orders and commands – directive speech acts made in situations where one person has authority to give instructions to another – rather than acts of voluntary self-binding. Notions of obligations arising from force majeure are arguably easier to comprehend than the idea that obligations could be undertaken voluntarily. In Chapter 6, we saw the second-millennium Assyrian official Ba-bu-aḫa-iddina giving orders to subordinates for the making of boots; we can assume that orders of a similar kind, and the obligations that resulted from them, were acknowledged in every society where hierarchical structures had been developed. Another example of an obligating directive, in societies with formal legal tribunals, is the court summons. The earliest summonses were presumably delivered orally by court officials or messengers. In some parts of ancient Mesopotamia, summoning individuals to court always remained an oral procedure; if any written documents were made, they were created after the event and simply recorded that the appropriate procedures had been authorized or completed (Holtz, 2009, 313). But in second-millennium Assyria, court summonses were commonly delivered in writing (Cancik-Kirschbaum, 2013, 66–9). Administrative instructions to Assyrian bureaucrats were also usually issued in writing; in cases such as these, as Nicholas Postgate (1986, 29) observed, obligations were created and conveyed by means of documents. Commissive speech acts, oral or written, were perhaps less intuitive. Their use requires, not only an understanding that an obligation can be brought into existence by means of words, but also a recognition that obligations can be selfimposed and a willingness to impose such obligations on oneself. Today, language and custom allow us to make commitments with varying degrees of strength, ranging from vague undertakings to morally binding promises and formal contracts. Modern Western legal systems also recognize a level of variation: some commitments are enforceable at law, while others are not. The early societies examined in this book did not develop complex jurisprudential understandings of contract, but the notion that certain forms of verbal commitment could be considered binding seems to have been well-established in Mesopotamia by the early second millennium BC (Greengus, 1969). In many early societies, in the absence of a concept of promising, making a strong commitment to specific future conduct required the swearing of an

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oath. The Hebrew scriptures provide a number of examples: in Genesis (chapter 24), Abraham makes his servant swear an oath that he will find a suitable wife for his son; in Joshua (chapter 2), Israelite spies swear that they will protect Rahab and her family; and in 1 Samuel (chapter 19), king Saul swears that he will not kill David. In the Mesopotamian world, the swearing of oaths was essential to the making of international treaties, and at domestic level oaths were apparently a necessary part of betrothal agreements (Westbrook, 2003, 65). Other kinds of commitment, including commitments to repay loans or not to interfere with the rights of others, could also be secured by an oath. In Pharaonic Egypt, oaths might be sworn, not only in the context of legal or quasilegal transactions, but also – for example – by individuals assuming administrative responsibilities (McDowell, 1990, 202–7). Swearing an oath was (as it still is) always an oral procedure, and any written document associated with it was either a script read by the oath-taker or, more usually, a record made after the event: an assertion that an oath to a particular effect had been sworn on a particular occasion. Many such records survive from the Mesopotamian world. In a clay tablet from the archive of Ur-Nuska, a merchant at Nippur, dating from the end of the third millennium BC, we read that: Annebabdu will pay Ur-Nuska 0.4.0 gur of barley, at the beginning of the day of the crescent moon. He swore in the name of the king that, if he does not pay him [on that day], he will give him double the amount. UlŠulpae, Lu-Enlila, Ur-e, and Šu--Mama … were the witnesses … (Garfinkle, 2012, 232) In two later tablets from Babylonia, the wording of the oaths is reported in the first person (‘I swear …’), but it remains clear that the act of swearing was already complete when the records were made: One mina and six shekels of silver of Iqı-ša … is due from Muše-zibMarduk …. Muše-zib-Marduk has sworn by [the god] Be-l: ‘I swear that … I will pay the silver to Iqı-ša’. (Sandowicz, 2012, 186) Īši-Amurru has sworn by Be-l [and others]: … ‘I swear that … I will come to Uruk … and will settle the account of the cattle’. (Sandowicz, 2012, 222) Oaths require the use of words, but they do not depend on words alone. Their effectiveness derives from supernatural forces: the oath-taker invokes the gods and implicitly or explicitly invites divine punishment if he does not fulfil his commitment. Oaths were often sworn at sacred locations, such as

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temples, or at special times of day, such as sunrise. An oath-taker was also usually required to perform symbolic actions: in Mesopotamia, these might include uncovering his head, touching a slaughtered animal, or holding a divine emblem (Sandowicz, 2012, 100–1). All these non-verbal measures served to present oath-taking as a solemn occasion and to reinforce the binding nature of the oath. Weight and solemnity of this kind are clearly lacking when speakers use words alone to allude to their future conduct. But the use of words alone gives rise to further questions. Using a verb in the future tense (or using it in the present tense in a context that refers to the future) may simply be a means of making an assertion. Just as a speaker can assert that ‘today I am’ or ‘yesterday I was’ doing X, she can also assert that ‘tomorrow I will’ do X. But ‘I will’ brings a new level of complexity: is it merely an assertion – a prediction of what she hopes, expects, or intends to do – or does she mean to commit herself by her words? From a present-day perspective, distinctions between statements of intent and commitments are often blurred. Nevertheless, members of a community may take the view that certain modes of speaking about future conduct impose obligations, even if no oath is sworn and no divine sanction invoked. On occasion, speakers could bind themselves by words alone; the simple use of ‘I will’ implied a commitment. This can be seen, for example, in a further episode in Genesis (chapter 29): when Jacob wished to marry and said to his putative father-in-law Laban ‘I will serve thee seven years for Rachel’, and when Laban subsequently required him to work for another seven years, saying ‘we will give thee this … for the service’, it seems that neither Jacob nor Laban was merely stating what they intended to do; each was implicitly making a commitment. The word ‘promise’ was not used, but a modern reader might conclude that promises were made. When important matters were at stake, there was clearly an incentive to supplement an oral commitment by creating an external record: the existence of the record would help to ensure that the obligation was remembered and difficult to repudiate. According to Genesis (chapter 31), when Jacob and Laban made a further agreement several years later, Jacob and his family set up a pillar and a heap of stones as enduring reminders of the covenant between the two parties. In societies where writing was available, people could create more explicit records, and many written records of oral commitments relating to financial or legal matters survive from the Mesopotamian world. For example, a second-millennium clay tablet recorded words spoken by Šalim-Aššur, an Assyrian merchant: Šalim-Aššur said: … ‘Within eight months … if I am unable to summon any witnesses … I will take responsibility for the debt of my father …’ (Hertel, 2013, 245) Another tablet recorded words apparently said by Alla, son of Azi, to the buyer of part of his orchard:

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Alla … said: ‘If the sale is not confirmed, I will give you my datepalms …’ (Gelb et al., 1991, 247; Steinkeller, 1989, 325) In both instances, a commitment about future conduct has evidently been made. In a second-millennium lawsuit, judges in northern Mesopotamia considered a commitment made by four men who had spoken the words ‘We will build a wall …’ and had agreed to surrender a cow if they failed to do so (Lion, 2000, 145–6). The tablet recording this agreement was produced in court; it made no mention of oath-taking, but the judges evidently believed that the spoken words were sufficient, and they enforced the obligation in their verdict. The obligation, however, had not been created by means of the record. In each of these examples, the commissive act was already complete when the record was inscribed. The commitments were made orally, and a scribe was instructed to write down the words that had been spoken, or were supposed to have been spoken, by the parties to the agreement. Notions that voluntary obligations could be created simply by the use of writing had, it seems, not yet emerged.

Gifts, sales, and written records In societies that recognized property rights, questions must also have arisen about how land or other property could appropriately be transferred from one individual to another. In Western cultures today, such transfers are routinely achieved by means of declarative written records: a process of writing, signing, and delivering a document is deemed sufficient to effect a conveyance. But in earlier times it was far from apparent that ownership could be transferred by means of words alone, whether spoken or written. Suppose that I live in a community where livestock is tended. If I want to give you a lamb, the simplest – and historically probably the earliest – way of achieving this would be for me to lift up the lamb and place it in your hands. If I have language skills, I would probably accompany this action with spoken words: ‘I’m giving you this lamb; now it’s yours’. Initially, we might consider that the words are optional and that the physical action alone serves to transfer ownership, but it may not be long before we start to feel that courtesy, or avoidance of doubt about my intentions, requires me to say some words of this kind. Eventually, the community in which we live might adopt the view that the transfer is not fully or correctly achieved unless suitable words are spoken. At a still later date, our community might acknowledge that physically handing over the lamb is unnecessary and that speaking the words alone will achieve the change in ownership. We will then have reached a point where a speech act is accepted in lieu of a physical act. Initially, however, this last step will probably

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seem a dangerous innovation; considerable time may need to pass before we and our neighbours are happy to accept it. How might I set about giving, or selling, you a piece of land or a house? Physically placing it in your hands is not an option, but perhaps we are not yet prepared to accept that words alone can perform the transaction. If I am selling it, receipt of the purchase price will be an essential part of the transaction, but something more seems to be needed. We cannot be sure how transfers of valuable property took place before the era of written records, but our knowledge of later practices in different parts of the world suggests that words would often have been accompanied by ritual actions such as pouring oil, stepping over a stick, or surrendering a clod of earth: a symbolic action that substitutes for its impractical physical counterpart. As we saw in Chapter 3, Mesopotamian land and house sales were often accompanied by the symbolic act of driving a peg or nail into a wall, a practice first attested in the 25th or 24th centuries BC (Gelb et al., 1991, 23), but doubtless of much older origin. In sales of slaves, the enslaved person was made to step over or walk past a pestle or wooden stick (Charpin, 2010, 44; Postgate, 1984, 10). As far as we know, in every early society where property transfers were formalized, such transactions took place in the presence of witnesses, whose attendance was requested so that their testimony would be available if a dispute subsequently arose. In Mesopotamia, lists of witnesses regularly feature in conveyancing records from about 2500 BC onwards (Gelb et al., 1991, 232), and it is reasonable to assume that witnesses also played a role in earlier transactions that were not described in writing. At a much later date, when the Gortyn law code in Greece set out procedural rules for dividing inherited property, it made no mention of creating a written record, but it insisted that three or more witnesses had to be present when a division took place; some scholars have argued that the attendance of witnesses was required, not only to help preserve memory of the event, but also because their presence was deemed an essential part of performing the division and rendering it valid (Robb, 1994, 101, 107). In Mesopotamia, when written records of property transactions were made, they always took the form of assertions about events that had already occurred: typically, person X has bought item I from person Y for price P before witnesses WW. Thus, for example, in the third-millennium record of the sale of the field Gi-lugal (mentioned in Chapter 3) it was asserted that: … the field Gi-lugal, from Ib-mud son of Á-ni-kur-ra, … Lum-ma-tur son of En-an-na-túm bought; 20¾ gur-sag-gál of barley was the price …. Ib-mud drove the nail into the wall .… Mes-barag-si, Lum-ma-en-te.mena, [and others] … were the witnesses. (Gelb et al., 1991, 86–8)

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The making of the written record followed, but did not form part of, the transaction. Because witnesses might prove untraceable at a later date, records could provide valuable additional security, but the record was not essential to the achievement of the transaction itself. Both in Mesopotamia and in Egypt, the phrasing of records of this kind varied considerably. Some records described the actions of the seller (‘X has sold …’), and others the actions of the buyer (‘X has bought …’). Some were phrased in the first person (‘I have sold/bought …’), and others in the third (‘s/he has sold/bought …’). Even when first-person phrasing was used, the record was normally created by a professional scribe, not by the party who appears to be uttering the words. In first-millennium Aramaic conveyancing documents from Egypt, scribes often stated that they were writing ‘according to the mouth’ of a party to the transaction (Yaron, 1961, 15, 25): they transcribed words that were dictated to them or attributed appropriate words to the individuals in question. In Mesopotamian conveyancing documents, allusions to symbolic acts gradually became less frequent and eventually ceased. Over time, phrases such as ‘she walked past the pestle’ may have become empty formulae: the phrase was still written when records were made, but the action was perhaps no longer physically performed (Charpin, 2010, 44). By the middle of the second millennium, the use of the written phrase was also discontinued. Records from this period indicate that sales were achieved by payment of a purchase price and appropriate words spoken with witnesses present. As a clay tablet found at Ugarit shows, records continued to describe conveyancing transactions as events that had taken place in the past, before the record was created: Kalbiya son of Kabidna-nu has sold six acres of field … for 520 shekels of silver to Kurwa-nu son of Ba‘lasku …. Ya‘didu was the scribe [who recorded the sale]. (Van Soldt, 2010, 104) Records of other legal transactions, including manumissions, adoptions, and wills, worked in much the same way. The transaction was performed orally, perhaps with appropriate symbolic gestures, before witnesses; optionally, a scribe might then make a written record stating what had occurred. In a will from Ugarit, the scribe made a transcript of the words that the testator spoke: In the presence of witnesses, Yarı-ma-nu has spoken as follows: ‘I give my wife Pidaya everything I possess … my oxen, my sheep, my donkeys …’ (Van Soldt, 2010, 113)

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Records in action Records such as these present a contrast to practices in recent Western societies, where conveyances, testamentary bequests, promises, and contracts can all be made by the use of writing. Today, records of these actions need not be mere descriptions of actions that have already occurred; the actions can be performed by means of the records themselves. In Anglophone countries, the common law generally insists that wills must be made in writing; words spoken about bequests are legally irrelevant, and only the words of a written will are dispositive. Contractual agreements in Anglophone countries need not always be written, but when writing is used the written words and signatures suffice to bind the parties to the contract. Although the notion that binding acts could be performed by means of written records did not win complete acceptance in the societies discussed in this book, it seems possible to trace some of its early stirrings in south-west Asia and Egypt, particularly in the development of commissive records. After the emergence of letter-writing, communications about an individual’s future conduct were not confined to the oral domain, but could be – and often were – made in written form. The first written letters may have been perceived as transcripts of words uttered by a human voice, but there seems to have been a gradual acceptance that letters themselves communicate the words they carry. When second-millennium Mesopotamian and Egyptian letters included sentences such as ‘I will provide you with the lumber’ (Hawley, 2008, 71), or ‘I shall stitch a tunic’ (Wente, 1990, 161), there is no suggestion that the letters are simply reporting words that had previously been vocalized; letters such as these ‘speak’ on behalf of their writers. It is open to question whether the letter-writers were making binding commitments or merely stating wishful intentions, but if the writers subsequently failed to provide the lumber or stitch the tunic their correspondents could justifiably respond with a complaint: ‘you told me that you would do these things’. To an undefinable degree, the words used in the letters committed their writers to a course of conduct. From the perspective of modern legal scholarship, a commitment of this kind was a ‘private social or linguistic act’ (Tiersma, 1988, 11) expressing the will of one person to do something for another; it established a moral rather than a legal obligation. But apparent parallels to the future-oriented language used in these letters can be found in records of more formal bilateral agreements. Conveyancing and leasing records from Mesopotamia and Egypt often include, not only clauses in a past tense (‘X has sold …’; ‘I have leased …’), but also clauses in present or future tenses (‘I will …’; ‘you will …’; ‘X says that he will …’), which set out undertakings about what the parties to the transaction will or will not do in the future. In a typical conveyancing record, after the description of the sale as a completed transaction, further clauses follow in which the seller agrees – or states his agreement – to defend the

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buyer against other claimants and not to intrude on the buyer’s rights. In a record of the leasing of flax fields near Thebes in Egypt, dating from the sixth century BC, the lessees agreed to pay the rent for the fields, addressing their landlord in writing with the words: ‘when harvest has occurred … you will receive 25% of the flax we will produce’ (Donker van Heel, 2012, 77). Commitments of this kind are clearly more than moral obligations; as an Egyptian legal manual implies (Donker van Heel, 2012, 74), they appear to be legally binding. Towards the end of the first millennium BC, some Egyptian legal records, particularly loan agreements, began to be composed in a format that resembled the established practices of letter-writing. Instead of using phrases such as ‘X has said to Y’, these records open with a letter-writing formula such as ‘X to Y [sends] greeting’, and X then addresses Y directly. They were known as cheirographs – a Greek term meaning ‘written with one’s own hand’ – because they were notionally written by the debtor personally, although some were evidently written by a scribe at the debtor’s request. A typical cheirograph was addressed by Psemminis, who had borrowed some money, to his creditor in 109 BC. After acknowledging receipt of the loan, Psemminis wrote: ‘What is still owing to you … I shall repay … by the fixed time …’ (Démare-Lafont et al., 2013, 22–3; cf. Depauw, 2013, 155–8). No witnesses were summoned, no ceremony took place, and there is no semblance of reporting words that had previously been spoken. Like letters, cheirographs appear to have communicated their messages autonomously. There was a sense in which the writing of the record embodied the obligation itself. Although the cheirograph was not universally used in Egypt, a modern jurist might conclude that, after its emergence, a legally binding contractual obligation could be established by means of writing alone (Démare-Lafont et al., 2013, 23, 27). But the question of whether the obligation was created purely by composing the written words, or whether it also depended on the intentions of the parties or the verbal negotiations that preceded the moment of writing, is largely a scholarly exercise of our own time; questions of this kind would not have greatly troubled people in the ancient world. In Mesopotamia, a further sense of the embodiment of obligations in written records can be gathered from the well-attested practice of breaking tablets when obligations were fulfilled. Tablets recording loans or other debts were routinely broken when the outstanding sum was repaid. A similar procedure was followed with Mesopotamian labour agreements: skilled workers were issued with raw materials, and when they delivered the finished goods the clay tablets that recorded their obligations were broken (Postgate, 2013, 171–2). The tablet was evidently seen as enshrining the obligation, and it seems that its destruction was thought necessary to bring the obligation to an end. In a case of debt cancellation in 1780 BC, when the tablet recording a debt was unavailable, a clod of earth was broken in its place (Charpin, 2010, 49), which suggests that the purpose of the procedure was not merely to

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prevent future use of the tablet or protect the debtor against renewed demands for payment; an act of destruction was deemed essential to complete the cancelling of the debt. Some Mesopotamian debt records included a provision that the debt was to be paid ‘to the bearer of this tablet’ rather than to a named individual. Such debts, it appears, could be assigned from one creditor to another simply by transferring possession of the relevant tablet (Van de Mieroop, 2002, 166). Records of this kind were not mere passive sources of information about debts incurred and obligations due; the record embodied the right to receive payment of the debt and was thus able to play an active role in the Mesopotamian commercial economy. Records of property conveyances, too, were sometimes broken, when purchases of land were annulled (Postgate, 1992, 197, 243). Annulment apart, possession of conveyancing records provided evidence of rightful ownership of property, and the transfer of older conveyancing records to a new purchaser apparently became a universal custom in Mesopotamia (Charpin, 2010, 51). Even when the creation and subsequent transfer of such records were not legally required, they seem to have been an expected norm. It might perhaps be assumed that, when the creation of conveyancing records had become routine and their possession had become a powerful symbol of ownership, people would have begun to use these records as a means of effecting ownership changes. But this did not happen: in Mesopotamia, as in other early societies where changes of ownership took place, these changes were not achieved by making written documents. In Mesopotamia and Egypt, in the Hellenistic era and beyond, writers of conveyancing records continued to report sales of land as actions that had already been performed by other means. In the terminology of speech-act theory, such records remained assertive. The continuing inclusion of lists of witnesses – and, in first-millennium Egypt, their autograph signatures – seems to demonstrate that the validity of a transaction ultimately rested on the witnesses’ presence at an oral act, and that the written record served only as additional evidence that the oral act had taken place (Depauw, 2014, 95; Joannès, 2010, 265). The witnesses, it appears, testified to the act, not to the record. While speech-act theorists categorize records of this kind as assertive, they also contend that assertive records do not wholly lack a performative aspect: to make or confirm an assertion is to perform an action (Austin, 1962, 133–4). This, too, can be illustrated from Mesopotamian practices. When seal impressions began to be applied to Mesopotamian property sale records in the second half of the third millennium, the seals seem to have been those of public officials such as heralds. But at the end of the millennium the use of heralds’ seals was discontinued in favour of the practice of sellers impressing their own seals (Postgate, 1992, 286–7); sellers, it seems, assumed more explicit responsibility for the content of the record. The sealing of the record by the seller can be seen as a

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performative act on the seller’s part: it enacted the seller’s confirmation of the assertions made in the written text.

Declarative procedures Property sales were not the only declarative acts in the ancient world in which writing played an increasing role. Testamentary bequests, for example, must originally have been made solely through spoken words or physical actions, but later testators sometimes sought to document their bequests by commissioning a written will, and writing acquired growing importance in testamentary procedure. In Ptolemaic Egypt, we encounter wills that contain no overt reference to the testator’s spoken words, but simply open with a statement that ‘X has made a disposition’, followed by a list of bequests written in the first person (‘I leave … my property … to my son …’) and the selection of executors (‘I choose as my executors A, B, and C’). Likewise, many Egyptian wills of the Roman period were written almost entirely in the first person (Fry, 1892; Keenan, 2014, 124). Because they are not phrased as reports of previously spoken words, these records superficially resemble the dispositive written wills of modern Western societies, but they were probably less autonomous than they appear. Under the Roman empire, a procedure for will-making required testators to hold the written text in their hand while saying the words ‘these things, as they have been written … I thus give, I thus bequeath …’, in the presence of five witnesses (Keenan, 2014, 123). The act of bequeathing required both a written text and spoken words. The presence of a written record was a necessary part of the act, but the act was not complete without the oral ceremony. We can observe broadly similar composite procedures in other early societies. In China, 3000 years ago, high officials were appointed by means of a ceremony at which the king or the royal secretary read aloud a written document (‘I command you to take office …’); the appointee bowed his head to the ground, and the document was then presented to him (Kern, 2007, 150–1; Li Feng, 2011, 274). The document was not dispositive in itself. It was an essential part of the appointment ceremony, supplied the script for the royal speech, and could subsequently be used by the appointee as evidence of the authority granted to him; but the deployment of the written text was only one of several elements that composed the formal ritual procedure. Rituals of this kind seem to prefigure the practices of the European Middle Ages, when charters were frequently read aloud or placed on church altars in the presence of large audiences, or grantors or witnesses laid their hands on charters during formal ceremonies (Clanchy, 2013, 258–9; Declercq, 2011; Moore, 2013). In early-medieval France, manumissions of serfs were performed by making an autograph mark on the deed of manumission while the deed rested on the serf ’s head (Koziol, 2012, 47–8). In every case, records played a role that surpassed mere assertion of events that had already

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occurred. They were employed alongside spoken words or physical actions, as part of a composite declarative process by which the relevant act was performed. A further example of a composite declarative process can be found in the early Judaic law of divorce. According to Deuteronomy (chapter 24), when a man wished to divorce his wife, he was to ‘write … a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house’. A divorce, it seems, could be initiated only by a husband. It was achieved by a sequence of three interlinked actions: the creation of a text, its delivery, and the wife’s dismissal from the house. The written ‘bill of divorcement’ was a key component, but the relevant physical actions were also required. These examples are from different societies at different dates, and they reveal different traditions. Some show records deployed in carefully orchestrated ritual settings, while others seem more mundane. But they all illustrate how the performance of a declarative act was deemed to require a complex procedure, in which a written record participated but did not constitute the entirety of the act. Issuance of documents was not deemed sufficient to perform such acts; other components were still thought necessary for the act to succeed. Within these complex procedures, however, written texts were required for performative as well as evidentiary reasons; the records were not mere commentaries on action, but were integral to it. In Western societies in more recent times, declarative (or, in legal terminology, ‘dispositive’) records have become commonplace. Many declarative acts have shaken off their oral components, and written records have been credited with the power to shape the world by establishing rights, responsibilities, and social relations (Smith, 2014; Yeo, 2018, 150–2). The notion that writing could be used to create or transfer rights and entitlements was never fully accepted in the early cultures examined in this book. But in the ancient world the stage was beginning to be set for records to acquire larger transformative roles and to function, in the words of archival scholar Terry Cook (2001, 22), as ‘active agents … in the lives of individuals … and society’.

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166 Orality, record-making, and social action Beynon-Davies, Paul (2010) ‘Dancing with Bees: Exploring the Relevance of the Study of Animal Communication to Informatics’, International Journal of Information Management 30 (3): 185–198. Cancik-Kirschbaum, Eva (2013) ‘Middle Assyrian Summonses: The Epistolary Format in Judicial Procedures’, in Uri Yiftach-Firanko, ed., The Letter: Law, State, Society and the Epistolary Format in the Ancient World, Harrassowitz. Charpin, Dominique (2010), Writing, Law and Kingship in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia, University of Chicago Press. Clanchy, M. T. (2013) From Memory to Written Record: England 1066–1307, 3rd edn., Wiley-Blackwell. Cook, Terry (2001) ‘Archival Science and Postmodernism: New Formulations for Old Concepts’, Archival Science 1 (1): 3–24. Declercq, Georges (2011) ‘Between Legal Action and Performance: The Firmatio of Charters in the Early Middle Ages’, in Marco Mostert and P. S. Barnwell, eds., Medieval Legal Process, Brepols. Démare-Lafont, Sophie, Michele Faraguna, and Uri Yiftach-Firanko (2013) ‘Introduction’, in Uri Yiftach-Firanko, ed., The Letter: Law, State, Society and the Epistolary Format in the Ancient World, Harrassowitz. Depauw, Mark (2013) ‘The Evolution and Use of Demotic Contracts in Epistolary Form’, in Uri Yiftach-Firanko, ed., The Letter: Law, State, Society and the Epistolary Format in the Ancient World, Harrassowitz. Depauw, Mark (2014) ‘Elements of Identification in Egypt 800 BC–AD 300’, in Mark Depauw and Sandra Coussement, eds., Identifiers and Identification Methods in the Ancient World, Peeters. Diel, Lori Boornazian (2012) ‘Nahua and Mixtec Pictorial Books’, in Deborah L. Nichols and Christopher A. Pool, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology, Oxford University Press. Donker van Heel, Koenraad (2012) Djekhy & Son: Doing Business in Ancient Egypt, American University in Cairo Press. Duranti, Alessandro (2015) The Anthropology of Intentions, Cambridge University Press. Duranti, Luciana (1998) Diplomatics: New Uses for an Old Science, Scarecrow. Fetzer, James H. (2005) The Evolution of Intelligence, Open Court. Fried, Charles (1981) Contract as Promise, Harvard University Press. Fry, E. P. (1892) ‘Conveyancing under the Ptolemies’, Law Quarterly Review 8 (1): 56–61. Garfinkle, Steven J. (2012) Entrepreneurs and Enterprise in Early Mesopotamia: A Study of Three Archives from the Third Dynasty of Ur, CDL. Gelb, Ignace J., Piotr Steinkeller, and Robert M. Whiting (1991) Earliest Land Tenure Systems in the Near East: Ancient Kudurrus, Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Greengus, Samuel (1969) ‘The Old Babylonian Marriage Contract’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 89 (3): 505–532. Hawley, Robert (2008) ‘Epistolary Function and the Archiving of Ugaritic Letters’, in Laure Pantalacci, ed., La lettre d’archive, Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale. Hertel, Thomas K. (2013) Old Assyrian Legal Practices, Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten. Holtz, Shalom E. (2009) Neo-Babylonian Court Procedure, Brill.

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Horn, Andrew G. (1997) ‘Speech Acts and Animal Signals’, in Donald H. Owings, Michael D. Beecher, and Nicholas S. Thompson, eds., Perspectives in Ethology, Springer. Hsing I-tien (2014) ‘Qin-Han Census and Tax and Corvée Administration: Notes on Newly Discovered Materials’, in Yuri Pines, Gideon Shelach, Lothar von Falkenhausen, and Robin D. S. Yates, eds., Birth of an Empire: The State of Qin Revisited, University of California Press. Hull, Matthew S. (2012) Government of Paper: The Materiality of Bureaucracy in Urban Pakistan, University of California Press. Ifrah, Georges (2000) The Universal History of Numbers, John Wiley & Sons. Joannès, Francis (2010) ‘Les formulaires juridiques néo-babyloniens’, in Sophie Démare-Lafont and André Lemaire, eds., Trois millénaires de formulaires juridiques, Droz. Justice, Daniel Heath (2015) ‘Indigenous Writing’, in Robert Warrior, ed., The World of Indigenous North America, Routledge. Keightley, David N. (2014) These Bones Shall Rise Again: Selected Writings on Early China, SUNY Press. Keenan, James G. (2014) ‘Roman Law in Egyptian Documents’, in James G. Keenan, J. G. Manning, and Uri Yiftach-Firanko, eds., Law and Legal Practice in Egypt from Alexander to the Arab Conquest, Cambridge University Press. Kern, Martin (2007) ‘The Performance of Writing in Western Zhou China’, in S. La Porta and D. Shulman, eds., The Poetics of Grammar and the Metaphysics of Sound and Sign, Brill. Korn, Fred, and Shulamit R. Decktor Korn (1983) ‘Where People Don’t Promise’, Ethics 93 (3): 445–450. Koziol, Geoffrey (2012) The Politics of Memory and Identity in Carolingian Royal Diplomas, Brepols. Li Feng (2011) ‘Literacy and the Social Contexts of Writing in the Western Zhou’, in Li Feng and David Prager Branner, eds., Writing and Literacy in Early China, University of Washington Press. Lion, Brigitte (2000) ‘Les textes judiciaires du royaume d’Arrapha’, in Francis Joannès, ed., Rendre la justice en Mésopotamie: archives judiciaires du proche-orient ancien (IIIe–Ier millénaires avant J.-C.), Presses Universitaires de Vincennes. McDowell, A. G. (1990) Jurisdiction in the Workmen’s Community of Deir el-Medîna, Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten. Marcus, Joyce (1992) Mesoamerican Writing Systems, Princeton University Press. Mithen, Steven (2006) The Singing Neanderthals, Phoenix. Moore, Liam (2013) ‘By Hand and by Voice: Performance of Royal Charters in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century León’, Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies 5 (1): 18–32. Ojo, Matthias Olufemi Dada (2013) ‘Symbols of Warning, Conflict, Punishment and War and Their Meanings among the Pre-Colonial Yoruba Natives: A Case of Aroko’, Antropologija 13 (1): 39–60. Ong, Walter (2002) Orality and Literacy, 2nd edn., Routledge. Postgate, J. Nicholas (1984) ‘Cuneiform Catalysis: The First Information Revolution’, Archaeological Review from Cambridge 3 (2): 4–18. Postgate, J. Nicholas (1986) ‘Middle Assyrian Tablets: The Instruments of Bureaucracy’, Altorientalische Forschungen 13 (1–2): 10–39.

168 Orality, record-making, and social action Postgate, J. Nicholas (1992) Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History, Routledge. Postgate, J. Nicholas (2013) Bronze Age Bureaucracy: Writing and the Practice of Government in Assyria, Cambridge University Press. Radner, Karen (2014) ‘An Imperial Communication Network: The State Correspondence of the Neo-Assyrian Empire’, in Karen Radner, ed., State Correspondence in the Ancient World, Oxford University Press. Robb, Kevin (1994) Literacy and Paideia in Ancient Greece, Oxford University Press. Roberts, Craige (2018) ‘Speech Acts in Discourse Context’, in Daniel Fogal, Daniel W. Harris, and Matt Moss, eds., New Work on Speech Acts, Oxford University Press. Robinson, Douglas (2003) Performative Linguistics, Routledge. Rosaldo, Michelle Z. (1982) ‘The Things We Do with Words: Ilongot Speech Acts and Speech Act Theory in Philosophy’, Language in Society 11 (2): 203–237. Sandowicz, Małgorzata (2012) Oaths and Curses: A Study in Neo- and Late Babylonian Formulary, Ugarit-Verlag. Searle, John R. (1979) Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts, Cambridge University Press. Searle, John R. (2007) Freedom and Neurobiology, Columbia University Press. Sehgal, Kabir (2015) Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How Its History Has Shaped Us, John Murray. Smith, Barry (2014) ‘Document Acts’, in Anita Konzelmann Ziv and Hans Bernhard Schmid, eds., Institutions, Emotions, and Group Agents, Springer. Spurkland, Terje (2008) ‘The Vikings’ Trust in the Written Word’, in Petra Schulte, Marco Mostert, and Irene van Renswoude, eds., Strategies of Writing, Brepols. Steinkeller, Piotr (1989) Sale Documents of the Ur-III-Period, Franz Steiner. Tiersma, Peter Meijes (1988) ‘Rites of Passage: Legal Ritual in Roman Law and Anthropological Analogues’, Journal of Legal History 9 (1): 3–25. Van de Mieroop, Marc (2002) ‘Credit as a Facilitator of Exchange in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia’, in Michael Hudson and Marc van de Mieroop, eds., Debt and Economic Renewal in the Ancient Near East, CDL. Van Soldt, Wilfred (2010) ‘The Akkadian Legal Texts from Ugarit’, in Sophie Démare-Lafont and André Lemaire, eds., Trois millénaires de formulaires juridiques, Droz. Veldhuis, Niek (2012) ‘Cuneiform: Changes and Developments’, in Stephen D. Houston, ed., The Shape of Script: How and Why Writing Systems Change, SAR. Wen Fong, ed. (1980) The Great Bronze Age of China, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wente, Edward F. (1990) Letters from Ancient Egypt, Scholars. Westbrook, Raymond (2003) ‘The Character of Ancient Near Eastern Law’, in Raymond Westbrook, ed., A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, vol. 1, Brill. Yaron, Reuven (1961) Introduction to the Law of the Aramaic Papyri, Clarendon. Yeo, Geoffrey (2017) ‘Information, Records, and the Philosophy of Speech Acts’, in Frans Smit, Arnoud Glaudemans, and Rienk Jonker, eds., Archives in Liquid Times, Stichting Archiefpublicaties. Yeo, Geoffrey (2018) Records, Information and Data: Exploring the Role of RecordKeeping in an Information Culture, Facet.

Chapter 8

Concluding thoughts: archival science and early records

In the opening pages of Archives in the Ancient World, Ernst Posner (1972, 2–3) affirmed that the archives of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome ‘seem to have much in common with those of our own times’ and that he could identify ‘constants’ in record-creation across different periods of history. The ‘constants’ that he listed were types of record, such as financial records and records of land ownership. But in the introduction to the 2003 reprint of Posner’s text, James O’Toole expressed his belief that Posner had also identified continuities in terms of archival practice and methodology. According to O’Toole (2003, xiii–xiv), most aspects of the administration of records in ancient societies ‘were fundamentally the same as those of the present’; record-keepers in the ancient world engaged in accessioning, appraisal, description, preservation, and reference activities that closely paralleled those of modern times. Other archivists have made similar claims. Gian Giacomo Fissore (1996, 11) contended that the ‘documentary forms’ of antiquity were destined ‘to remain constant in … the Western world right up to the present day’; Gregory Bradsher (1985, 242) claimed that ‘the archives of then and now are basically the same’ and that ‘archival practices do not appear to have changed much in over 4000 years’. These assertions seem likely to elicit mixed reactions from readers of archival literature. At one level, they reflect a wish for what O’Toole (2003, xv) called ‘reaffirmation’ that the work of today’s archivists is ‘carrying on a nearly timeless tradition’. The search for continuities is long-standing: large parts of the archival treatises by Baldassarre Bonifacio (1632) and Albertino Barisone (1737) were concerned with establishing the antiquity of archival practice by citing literary evidence from ancient Greece or Rome. Desires to identify the age of a discipline are surely legitimate. All too often, however, attempts to demonstrate the longevity of archival methods or the archival profession have led archivists to describe early record-keeping practices in anachronistic language or to propose unsustainable comparisons with modern methods. Posner (1972, 81–4) claimed that, in Pharaonic times, Egypt had elaborate systems for authenticating and registering records of property transfers and formal procedures for retrieving and consulting records. He referred to

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‘meticulous record-keeping’ and a proliferation of ‘archival establishments’ with a staff of archivists and a ‘director of archives’. Building on Posner’s work, Randall Jimerson (2009, 33) wrote of ‘extensive systems of archival repositories and registers’ that ‘supported the smooth functioning of government at all levels’ in Pharaonic Egypt. But recent work in Egyptology has painted a different picture. The words that Posner – and the scholars of an earlier generation whose work he relied on – translated as ‘archivist’ and ‘director of archives’ are open to other translations, and Anglophone scholars now tend to refer to Egyptian personnel as ‘guardians of writings’ (Eyre, 2013, 209, 324) or ‘head document-keepers’ (Quirke, 1996, 396). According to Egyptologist Christopher Eyre (2013, 260), much of the administration of Pharaonic Egypt was ‘ramshackle’, and the central bureau ‘was in no way an efficient … archive’. Records were kept – almost certainly in considerable quantities – but Posner’s account of rigorous methods and formal procedures rests on conjectural interpretations of Egyptian sources and is not supported by more recent scholarship. Egyptologists have acknowledged that their predecessors were overly prone to using modern Western norms to assess the ancient world; in the light of newer understandings of Egyptian society, some of Posner’s interpretations now need to be adjusted or abandoned.1 Regardless of whether our primary interest is in Egypt, Mesopotamia, or Greece, or in other regions of the world that Posner did not discuss, we must be cautious about claims of continuity between ancient and modern practices. A call for restraint may also apply to socially-engaged historians and archivists who have sought to link record-keeping in classical Athens to contemporary freedom of information movements (Harris, 1994) or outreach projects for ‘taking archival documents to the people’ (Cook, 2000, 144). A more measured assessment has been provided by archival scholar Anne Gilliland, who remarked that ‘tangible recordkeeping has been an integral component of human bureaucratic processes and … transactions … since at least 3200 BCE’ (Gilliland, 2017, 35), but also noted that record-keeping practices and priorities change over time and that ‘there will always be limitations to the extent to which, from the current day, one can arrive at an understanding of the … discourses of … a distant past’ (Gilliland, 2011, 113–14). Her comments offer a valuable corrective to the ingenuousness of many earlier discussions in archival literature. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that there is nothing to be gained from investigating points of similarity between ancient and modern record-keeping, or to suppose that no similarities can exist. Gilliland (2017, 35) observed that early societies devised ‘methods of creating, organising, retrieving and referring to records’; while we must be careful not to assume that their methods and objectives were identical to our own, these basic elements of record-keeping practice offer a starting-point for considering whether any underlying areas of commonalty may be found. This chapter

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discusses whether, and how far, understandings of record-keeping in our own times may be of value to studies of early practices.

Facing the practical challenges of record-keeping When looking at the making and keeping of records in early societies, it often seems possible to observe that people in the distant past acted with aims we can broadly recognize. We can see, for example, that many early recordmakers took steps to diminish the possibility that records might be subject to tampering. In Mesopotamia, clay tablets were sometimes baked, to prevent reuse of the clay or alteration of the tablet’s textual content. The Mesopotamian practice of placing tablets in sealed envelopes, and the later Egyptian ‘double documents’ (in which texts were written twice, with one copy hidden from view in a sealed roll), must also have been intended to protect records from illicit changes. On the Greek island of Paros, a law introduced in the second century BC required duplicates of records to be made and deposited in separate temple sanctuaries, where the records would be protected by divine sanction and any suspected malpractice could be revealed by comparing the duplicate copies (Coqueugniot, 2013, 119–20). Likewise, in Inka Peru, where khipu records could be altered simply by untying a knot, accountants sometimes sought to counteract the risk of fraud by making duplicate khipus and keeping them separately (Urton, 2005). Some of the knots may also have been tied in ways that made them difficult to dislodge (Salomon, 2013, 31). As I suggested in the opening chapters of this book, precautions such as these reveal concerns for what archivists now call the ‘integrity’ of records. Today’s challenges largely arise from apprehensions about the alterability of digital records, and archivists’ practical responses to them reflect very different technical environments, but perceptions of the risks of unauthorized changes to records and of a need for counter-measures are not confined to our own era. In any society, records that are to be kept for possible future use need to be housed somewhere. As collections of records in early societies grew larger, people assigned spaces – containers, rooms, or sometimes whole buildings – for storing them. Dedicated spaces of this kind usually provided a degree of security for records, and larger repositories could also be combined with scribal facilities for creating new records or copying existing ones. It seems clear that designated repositories – large or small – came to be established in every early society that created written records. Chapter 5 of this book has examined several aspects of the operation of record repositories in ancient south-west Asia, Egypt, and Greece, but repositories also functioned in China – where the term shufu, ‘repository for writings’, was in use by the third century BC (Fölster, 2018, 220) – and in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica and Peru.

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No repositories from pre-Hispanic times survive intact in the Americas today, but there is no reason to doubt that they once existed on a considerable scale. After the Spanish conquests, chroniclers not only confirmed the existence of record repositories in Mesoamerica and Peru, but also explicitly compared them with European archival institutions. Bernal Díaz del Castillo, the chronicler of the conquest of the Aztecs, who reported that Montezuma’s mayordomo ‘kept the accounts of all the revenue … in his books’, also noted that the mayordomo ‘had a great house full of these books’ (Carrasco, 2008, 169). About 170 years after the conquest, Spanish friar Diego López de Cogolludo claimed that he had heard of indigenous archives in the Maya town of Tixualahtun, ‘where were preserved all the events, as is done in Spain at the Archivo de Simancas’ (Carter, 2014, 350).2 Likewise, the khipu repositories of the Inka realm are known primarily from the writings of Spanish chroniclers: Agustín de Zárate’s Historia del descubrimiento y conquista del Perú referred to ‘casas públicas full of … cords’, and another chronicler, Martín de Murúa, compared collections of khipus to the registries that ‘scribes have in their offices’ (Urton, 2018, 603; Urton and Brezine, 2007, 358). The reputation of khipus in the post-conquest era extended as far as Italy, where Baldassare Bonifacio (1632, 6) described them as ‘archiva satis ampla’, archives sufficiently ample. It would be wrong to suppose that all records in early societies were preserved in storage rooms or in repositories that resembled archival institutions. In Mesopotamia, the clay record of a house sale at Girsu in the 24th century BC was attached to a wooden peg or nail driven into the wall of the house, where it remained publicly visible (Veenhof, 2003b, 148–9). At Tell Tayinat near Alalakh, in the seventh century, a tablet recording an oath of loyalty was mounted on public display in a temple (Harrison, 2014, 89–90). Nevertheless, large numbers of records in early societies were brought together in repositories whose function was not to exhibit or publicize records but to store them under conditions of controlled access. Much as in our own time, such repositories allowed custodians of records to make provisions for the records’ protection and safety. In China, for example, more than 2000 years ago, the carrying of flaming torches or lamps was prohibited in record repositories, to reduce the risk of fire (Barbieri-Low and Yates, 2015, 817; Fölster, 2018, 220). More commonly, custodians were concerned to protect records from unauthorized access. Confidentiality perhaps needed to be safeguarded, but people in early societies were also alert to the possibility of records being damaged or destroyed by individuals wanting to avoid liability or seeking to cover their tracks after acts of misappropriation. In the second millennium BC, a Hittite king sent instructions to governors of frontier posts, warning them of this danger (Miller, 2013, 51, 235). A millennium later, in China, an order of 320 BC decreed that individuals who had destroyed population registers, presumably in the hope of avoiding the compulsory labour or taxes that the registers helped to enforce, were to be

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arrested (Weld, 1999, 85). Storing records in secure repositories could make such occurrences less likely. We have seen in Chapter 5 how measures were taken at Mari and elsewhere in south-west Asia to inhibit unauthorized access by sealing repository doors. Precautions of this kind were not universal: at Mycenaean Knossos and Pylos, although the boxes in which tablets were placed may have been sealed, there is little evidence of security measures to control access to the storage rooms (Palaima and Wright, 1985, 261). But the precautions taken at Mari were paralleled at a later date in China, where a statute of about 200 BC decreed that: the registers of the people’s houses, gardens and households, the detailed registers of ages, … and the registers of the field taxes … are to be held in a trunk or a coffer … and closed and sealed …. They are to be placed … in a document repository and the door of the repository is to be sealed. When it is necessary to put some of them in order … the magistrate’s scribe and the official in charge are to check to see if the seals are whole … and the bailiff is to open [them] …. When they have completed the matter, they are to store and immediately close and seal [the container] once more and the storehouse is to be sealed. (Yates, 2012–13, 327–8) As their record-keeping practices developed, people in early societies also met the unavoidable problems that large numbers of records occupy considerable amounts of space and that the available storage areas eventually become full. As ever, our clearest picture of responses to these problems comes from Mesopotamia and the eastern Mediterranean. One possible response was to acquire more space. We have already seen (in Chapter 5) that the house of Inana-mansum at Sippar included a room for storing tablets; when this became full, Inana-mansum extended his house and built a second record-storage area (Tanret, 2011, 271). An obvious alternative – widely adopted in temples and palaces, where most records related to shortterm accounting and routine administration – was to identify and discard records whose usefulness was thought to have diminished. Many palace repositories in Mesopotamia and in early Aegean societies bore a closer resemblance to modern ‘records centres’, in which most records are retained only for short periods, than to today’s archival institutions where long-term retention is the norm. Sometimes, older records seem to have been moved to alternative accommodation. Following Assyriologist Wilfred van Soldt’s (1986) observation that older tablets at Ugarit appear to have been housed in the upper storey of a building, scholars have inferred that Ugaritic record-keepers segregated often-used records from those consulted less frequently (Van den Hout, 2008, 219). Likewise, archaeological evidence from the Hittite capital Ḫattuša has been taken to indicate that older records of Hittite administration were

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methodically separated from more recent records and removed to different storage areas, and that records of continuing importance may subsequently have been selected for longer-term preservation in another building (Van den Hout, 2011, 75–6). In examining these practices, some Hittitologists have borrowed from the vocabulary of contemporary records management and have written about arrangements for keeping ‘current’ and ‘semi-current’ records at Ḫattuša (Van den Hout, 2011, 75; Waal, 2010, 300). Further and more explicit borrowings were made in the work of biblical scholar Jaqueline du Toit (2011, 98–100) in her discussion of record-storage arrangements at Ebla, where she affirmed that records were managed through the different phases of their ‘life cycle’, following a conceptual model that she attributed to Canadian archivist Jay Atherton. Such use of terms and concepts from contemporary records management is unusual among scholars specializing in the study of early societies, but it seems legitimate if it is accompanied by recognition that early recordcreators would have been unlikely to speak in this way. Employing terminology of this kind perhaps amounts to little more than an acknowledgement that, in any society where records are kept for broadly ‘administrative’ reasons, recently-created records may be used more actively than their older counterparts and the latter may sometimes be moved to alternative storage or discarded. When reviewing early responses to the challenges of bulk storage, points of similarity with later practices are perhaps not hard to find. However, it remains open to question whether O’Toole (2003, xiii, xxiv) was right to speak of records being ‘appraised’ in ancient societies and to claim that ‘procedures and criteria for selecting … documents … for long-term retention … expressed deliberate judgments about the values of records’. As we saw in Chapters 4 and 6, at sites as geographically distant as Pylos in Greece and Shemsha-ra in Iraq, it is evident that there were norms that accounting records should be routinely destroyed after a fixed interval. The level of adherence to these norms indicates that they were widely acknowledged within the local administration, but (as far as we know) they remained unwritten. Nowhere in the ancient world do we find formal criteria for disposal or written regulations stating the periods of time for which records should be retained. At other sites, in Egypt as well as in Mesopotamia, there is evidence that the destruction of obsolete accounting records was not always carried out systematically (Posener-Kriéger, 1986, 27; Taylor and Cartwright, 2011, 303). In contexts where record-making extended beyond the sphere of accounting, accumulations of records might be reviewed from time to time; decisions might be made that some records should be kept for a longer period and others discarded. But this, too, was not always done methodically. Assyrian merchants in Anatolia, for example, often seem to have retained redundant records that had no practical or legal value (Michel, 1995, 22; Veenhof, 2013, 39). If storage space was plentiful, a busy trader is unlikely to have prioritized

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the sifting of his older records. Very often, researchers seeking parallels with record-keeping practices in more recent times may discover them, not in formal procedures or ‘deliberate judgments’, but in popular perceptions of the disposal of older records as a non-urgent or unimportant task. Nevertheless, some Assyrian merchants appear to have been more assiduous in destroying records and kept few for longer than two or three years (Larsen, 2008, 87). More widely, both in Mesopotamia and in Egypt, the sedulous preservation of title deeds over extended periods of time indicates that, when rights to property were at stake, decisions about the retention of records could be made and implemented on the basis of the records’ continuing utility. It can certainly be argued that some repositories in early societies were well-maintained and that their custodians sometimes applied, or attempted to apply, methodical approaches to the retention, protection, and arrangement of records. As we have seen, modern scholars often adduce the archives of Ebla as an example of what they perceive as ‘good practice’ in the third millennium BC; a repository at Ebla is frequently depicted in terms that suggest modes of storage comparable to those that might be used today.3 Examples of a careful approach to preservation can be found at later dates in Egypt, where papyrus rolls were sometimes protected from physical damage during storage by wrapping them in a sheet of blank papyrus; in Greco-Roman times, reeds or cloth were used for a similar purpose (Fournet, 2018, 178; Porten, 2011, 389). Records in the Inka empire were also prepared for archival storage in ways that reduced the likelihood of damage: this was done by coiling the primary cord of a khipu around its pendant cords (Salomon, 2004, 142–3; Urton and Brezine, 2007, 364–5).

Similar challenges, varying responses? Recognition of record-keeping challenges such as preservation, security, and damage prevention appears to have been widespread, but it must have arisen independently in different past societies. We cannot hope to trace continuities or historical connections between awareness of these matters in the eastern Mediterranean and in early China or Inka Peru. Similar issues arose in each society, but responses to them differed from one societal context to another; the solutions that emerged were determined by the technologies and cultures of a particular time and place. Within geographically dispersed and longlasting societies such as Mesopotamia, record-keeping methods varied – sometimes subtly, sometimes drastically – across different localities and dates. Any attempt to discover connections between early record-keeping and presentday practice also requires considerable caution. Although early record-keepers encountered challenges that seem perennial, their practical responses to those challenges were sometimes very different from those that might be applied today. When continuities over time are sought, it is often easier to identify them in the

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difficulties that record-keeping ventures commonly face than in the solutions that people chose to adopt in particular historical situations. Records did not always fare well in early societies. In Athens, a deme register was allegedly lost by its official custodian (Missiou, 2011, 87, 111). In Ptolemaic Egypt, the title deeds of a house were stolen (Pestman, 1983, 293). In Roman Egypt, regulations intended to enforce the transfer of records to a repository were sometimes not observed (Kruse, 2014, 68–9). One of the earliest surviving reports on archival management and storage practices also comes from Roman Egypt: a review of the public record repository of the Herakleides district in AD 115 reported that the building had collapsed and the records were heaped in confusion, some in frail condition, others in a state of disintegration. A site for a new building had been identified and money assigned for its erection, but little or nothing had been done (Kruse, 2014, 76; Van Groningen, 1950, 56–8). These examples are from a variety of cultures and a variety of dates; they offer an impressionistic picture, not a comprehensive analysis. Conditions in – for instance – the Herakleides district were not necessarily typical of Egypt or the wider ancient world. But these examples sufficiently demonstrate that the human failings, misdemeanours, and accidents that sometimes obstruct effective record-keeping were not unknown in ancient times. At first sight, the situation described in the report on the Herakleides repository may appear easily recognizable. To many archivists today, inadequate facilities, records in deteriorating condition, and a perceived lack of official urgency in addressing these problems will seem all too familiar. The report’s judgements of what was wrong and the Roman prefect’s proposals for actions needed to rectify it (‘take the [new] building in hand’; ‘transfer … and make a list’ of the records) also seem similar to those that might be put forward in our own era. However, closer inspection reveals some surprising differences. The report was used in a dispute about liability for repairing the records. Although the building expenses were perhaps borne by public funds, conservation work had to be funded by the officers in charge of the repository. These were not public employees, but wealthy individuals to whom the government assigned the care of the records, indefinitely or for a fixed term. During this period, they were expected to pay all the running costs. Repository staff were employees of the officers, not of the government (Kruse, 2014, 77–8; Van Groningen, 1950, 106– 8). To modern eyes – even in an age when outsourcing is fashionable – such arrangements for managing public records may appear distinctly unusual, but in Roman Egypt they were commonplace. Although many of the issues raised by the report seem instantly recognizable, it may be unwise to take their familiarity at face value. Records that survive from a different society point to a broadly similar conclusion. In Chapter 4, we briefly met the administrative and legal records associated with the Chinese official Shao Tuo. Archaeologists found these records in his tomb, which dates from the fourth century BC. Alongside them

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were two further texts: one describes attempts by divination specialists to negotiate with ghostly beings to identify the curses that had afflicted Shao Tuo’s health, and the other lists the equipment that he was expected to need for his journey into the spirit world (Cook, 2006, 8). While the administrative and legal records reflect aspects of bureaucracy that we can easily recognize – the details of loans, plaintiffs’ charges, and court procedures do not seem wholly different from those that might be recorded today – the two texts found alongside them remind us that the bureaucratic records were created in a cultural context very unlike modern Western societies. The presence of these official records in Shao Tuo’s tomb also alerts us to important cultural differences: today, we would not expect records of an officer’s public duties to be placed in his tomb, but in China in Shao Tuo’s day this seems to have been a common practice. Modern archival scholars have often written of records having ‘continuing values’, but they have not interpreted these values in terms of guiding actions in an afterlife – if, as has been suggested (Weld, 1999, 78), this was a reason for entombing the records.

Contextual relationships of records: provenance, fonds, and collections In the Mesopotamian world, as we saw in Chapter 5, there is evidence from Aššur and Ugarit that records of different activities or administrative offices were stored in separate locations. In effect, the storage arrangements for these records reflected their provenance, and they seem to provide early examples of applications of the principle that archivists today know as respect des fonds. Arguing from evidence of this kind, James O’Toole (2003, xiii) affirmed that ‘ancient archivists’ showed ‘persistent concern’ for the administrative provenance of records, and French archivist Jean Favier claimed that at Ugarit ‘fonds were scrupulously respected and maintained according to a rigorous classification’ (Favier, 2001, 8; my translation). In putting forward these views, O’Toole and Favier were influenced by the dominant archival thinking of their times. Although its validity has sometimes been challenged in recent years (Bailey, 2013; cf. Millar, 2002), for more than a century respect des fonds was unquestionably considered a key principle of archival science. The essential need to protect the provenance of records was promulgated – together with advice that this should be done by maintaining fonds as physical aggregations – by Natalis de Wailly and Tanneguy Duchâtel in France in 1841, under the so-called ‘July Monarchy’ of Louis-Philippe I (Douglas, 2017, 27–8). A similar principle had been incorporated in the ordinances of the Archivo General de Indias in Spain 50 years earlier (Slade, 2011, 202–5), and arrangement by fonds had undoubtedly been applied in practice in many European settings long before its formal enunciation.4 But the decisions to store records in this way at Aššur and Ugarit were not driven by articulated theoretical principles.

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In early societies, when records were kept to provide support for administrative actions, some custodians may have seen operational benefits in arranging them on the basis of their administrative origins; others may simply have felt that this was the easiest or most practically convenient way of arranging storage. Conventional archival thinking affirms that a fonds – defined as the totality of records created or accumulated by an organization, a person, or a family – is or can be divided into ‘series’; and that, within each series, individual items are or can be assembled into ‘files’. Both Posner (1972, 61) and O’Toole (2003, xiii) claimed that series were identifiable in Mesopotamian archives. As we saw in Chapter 2, claims have also been made that clay sealings from the pre-writing era were arranged in files and series for accounting purposes (Ferioli and Fiandra, 1994, 150). Again, however, it is far from certain that early record-keepers would have recognized the concept of a series; perhaps the most we can say is that they sometimes stored sets of related records together or put them into a single container. In recent Western societies, a ‘file’ connoted a physical mechanism – such as a folder or jacket – for holding together records that would otherwise be discrete, but (except in Egypt, where papyri could easily be rolled or pasted together) few equivalent mechanisms are known from the ancient world. In Mesopotamia, the material format of clay tablets militated against the possibility of constituting ‘files’ by attaching one tablet to another. In the late third millennium, very occasionally, after goods had been issued, the instruction for their transmission was enclosed in a clay envelope bearing a receipt on its surface; uniting the two documents in this way arguably constituted a ‘file’ that provided ‘the “clay trail” for the transaction’ (Michalowski, 2011, 15). But it was more usual for related tablets simply to be placed together in a basket or other receptacle. Assyriologists sometimes use the word ‘dossier’ to refer to a set of records that may have been grouped together on a particular occasion. When Ur-Utu, the son of Inanamansum, bought a field in the Paḫ district, the seller handed over eleven tablets recording previous conveyances; according to Assyriologist Caroline Janssen (1996, 241–4), a list of the tablets was made and they were transmitted to Ur-Utu as a kind of dossier, but they were not physically combined as a ‘file’ and they do not seem to have been stored together when the record rooms of UrUtu’s house were subsequently rebuilt. From the perspective of scholarly investigation, records are rarely easy to interpret without an understanding of their context and their interconnections, yet they often lack explicit statements of their contextual origins. These investigative challenges apply to records from early societies as much as to the records of our own time. Like their modern counterparts, record-makers in early societies tended to assume that users would know the sequence of transactions of which each record forms part, and they rarely troubled to inscribe contextual details. The consequences of this can be seen, for example, in scholarly interpretations of the records found in Shao Tuo’s tomb: records

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that one scholar understands as a judge’s dealings with parties in legal cases have been interpreted by another scholar as internal communications among officials (Weld, 1999, 88). Much recent work in archival science has sought to explore issues of context by identifying the relationships of records: relationships between one record and another, and between records and societal mandates or functions, as well as between records and people or organizations. The importance of relationships among records has also come to be recognized by many archaeologists, historians, anthropologists, and other scholars whose research interests lead them to use records from early societies. In almost all these fields, older studies generally considered individual records in isolation, but more recent work has acknowledged the value of examining interrelated groups. It seems doubtful, however, whether conventional archival ideas about ‘series’ and ‘files’ can contribute much to investigations of early record-keeping contexts and practices. Recent thinking in archival science has moved away from attempts to identify fonds, series, and files as definitive physical groupings, and has sought broader and more flexible ways of exploring and acknowledging the contexts of records’ creation, preservation, and use. Many archival scholars now have a particular interest in the continuing recontextualizations that occur as records are handled, rearranged, or reinterpreted by different custodians and users over time (Douglas, 2018; MacNeil, 2008). An emphasis on what archivists refer to as ‘custodial history’ resonates with the study of records created in early societies, which were often discarded, abandoned, and neglected for centuries before archaeologists or illicit excavators rediscovered them; once rediscovered, they sometimes pass through the hands of commercial dealers as well as professional curators before they become freely available for scholarly research. Each intervention adds a further layer of contextual relationships, but all too often these interventions are not explicitly documented. Examining sets of records that were stored or found together seems particularly important when investigating records from early societies, because other means of identifying contextual relationships are often lacking. But the clues that such examination provides are necessarily imperfect. As many archivists have noted, no physical aggregation can capture the multiplicity of relationships that records appear to possess or the richness of their diverse contexts (Michetti, 2013; Yeo, 2020). Even within the more limited sphere of inferring relationships between records and creators, reliance on sets of records stored together demands some caution. In previous work (Yeo, 2012), I argued that the collections of records encountered by users seldom comprise the totality of records created by a single organization, person, or family; their extent and shape almost always result from the practical constraints of storage and from interventions and changes made over time. Fonds – although traditionally perceived as physical aggregations – are conceptual; they rarely correspond to collections of records in the real world.

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The cases that I studied in my previous work were from modern times, but the argument is equally applicable to records from early societies. In the Mesopotamian world, the archives of Assyrian merchants indicate that individual items were often detached from stored collections (Veenhof, 2003a, 109–11). Merchants with spacious houses accepted deposits of records from other merchants who lacked accommodation of their own; when the records of different merchants were stored together, the components of different fonds could easily become intermixed (Michel, 2018, 57–8). Another example of disturbed fonds has been noted at Mari: after the defeat of king Zimrı--Lı-m by Hammurabi of Babylon, part of Zimrı--Lı-m’s archive was removed from Mari and added to a collection housed in Hammurabi’s capital (Charpin, 1995). Among some of the peoples whose recording practices are examined in this book – such as the Mycenaeans and the Hittites – written records of private business seem to have been unknown; but in early societies where private recordkeeping developed, the boundaries between private and ‘official’ archives often became blurred. Private records, or records that appear to be private, have been discovered in Mesopotamian temples and palaces, and records of official business were sometimes intermixed with archives kept in private houses. At Kaneš in Anatolia, official correspondence of the merchants’ ka-rum, or colony, has been found in the private archives of merchants who may have acted as officers of the colony (Michel, 2018, 46–7; Veenhof, 2003a, 82). In Ptolemaic Egypt, the archive of the estate manager Zenon included records of his official activities as well as his private life (Fournet, 2018, 183).5 Even the working archive of the Roman-era grapheion at Tebtunis in northern Egypt – one of the earliest surviving archives arising from the day-to-day operations of a record repository – included documents relating to the personal affairs of the officer in charge, as well as documents created in managing the repository (Van Beek, 2013). The archive of Djekhy and Iturech in Egypt, dating from the sixth century BC (Donker van Heel, 2012), exemplifies many of these phenomena. Like many other family archives – ancient or modern – it originated with the records created and kept by a single individual (Djekhy) and was later augmented by records created by others (particularly his son Iturech). It includes some records of an organization with which Iturech was connected (an association of funerary priests); it also includes personal records of individuals outside the family, such as the marriage settlement of a business associate’s daughter. Although seemingly unrelated to the private affairs of Djekhy and Iturech, these records found their way into the family’s keeping; perhaps they were deposited with Djekhy or Iturech for safe custody. Records found together in archaeological excavations – particularly records that had long ago been discarded – do not always emanate from a single household or institution, and records from single households or institutions are now often separated. In Egypt, for example, discarded papyri from three unrelated families were found together in a cellar; it appears that records previously housed separately became intermixed when they were discarded

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(Fournet, 2018, 176). In our own era, many Mesopotamian clay tablets and Egyptian papyri have been deposited in museums, where fonds and collections almost never coincide. Many fonds from the ancient world are now divided between two or more museums, and many museums have collections assembled from a number of dispersed fonds.

Archival concepts and archival scholarship Discussion of fonds and archival provenance also raises wider questions about the relevance of concepts from modern archival science to the worlds of early record-making and record-keeping. In Chapter 7, I attempted to show how concepts from speech-act theory, although developed in our own era, may provide a useful framework for analysing aspects of record-creation in early societies. Can theories, ideas, and concepts developed by archivists and archival scholars over the past two centuries also be of value in studies of this kind? How far – if at all – can contemporary archival thinking be applied to investigations of records made and kept in other cultures and other ages? In attempting to answer these questions we must, of course, be sensitive to differences: we must not assume that people in earlier times would have viewed records as we view them today. However, some concepts may prove to be of longer standing than we might expect. For example, distinctions between originals and copies, although not exclusive to our own times, might nevertheless be thought to belong to the discourse of a more recent era; but it is clear that, at a practical level, original records were distinguished from copies in some early societies. In Assyria and the Hittite kingdom, while original sealed treaties and obligation texts were deposited or displayed in temples, reference copies without seals were apparently kept in storerooms for ease of access (Lauinger, 2015; Van den Hout, 2005, 286–7). Some unsealed tablets from late-third-millennium Mesopotamia bore the subscript gaba-ri kišib-ba, meaning ‘copy of a sealed document’; in the second millennium, some tablets relating to mercantile transactions at Kaneš were likewise identified as copies of sealed originals (Dahl, 2003; Michel, 1995, 18). Mesopotamian and Hittite literary writings frequently had colophons that noted their status as copies and the name of the copyist or the commissioner of the copy (Robson, 2020, 183; Waal, 2010, 119–32), and similar colophons were sometimes inscribed on copies of treaties, decrees, or royal land grants (Kataja and Whiting, 1995, 7, 79; Waal, 2010, 164–76). Under the Han dynasty, the Chinese also distinguished between originals and copies, apparently using a word with the specific meaning of ‘to record a copy’; originals and copies of Han-era population registers were kept in separate repositories at different levels of an administration (Barbieri-Low and Yates, 2015, 815–16). We may also be able to find relevance in archival concepts that were not developed until much later times. Chapter 1 of this book has endeavoured to show that the concept of records as persistent representations, which was

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developed to help explicate records in our own era (Yeo, 2007), can also assist us in understanding some aspects of early record-making before the invention of writing. Early societies, we must assume, did not develop an apparatus of thought about representation or persistence; when we identify the challenges that the earliest record-makers faced as challenges of persistent representation, we are undoubtedly considering them from a present-day vantage point. Nevertheless, this concept remains useful for constructing an interpretation of the distant origins of record-making and record-keeping. I know of no other conceptual framework that would serve this purpose so well. I have argued elsewhere that perceiving material entities as records or persistent representations need not preclude others from understanding those entities in diverse ways. I presented this argument in terms of seeing such entities as ‘boundary objects’, which straddle different modes of understanding across different communities and potentially also across different timeframes; every community that encounters an object or a set of objects brings its own perspectives to the table (Yeo, 2008, 131–2). While some communities may view an object as a persistent representation of an activity, event, or experience, others may view the same object in a very different light. But objects can also be – and frequently are – construed in a multiplicity of ways within a single community. We have seen several examples of this in earlier chapters, including the first seals – which their owners used as personal ornaments or amulets as well as identification, security, and recording devices – and the later African nkisi, with their multiplicity of intertwined roles in curing illnesses, removing taboos, ending droughts, and providing aids to memory. Similarly, when the written text of an oath or a treaty was deposited or displayed in an Assyrian temple, it served as an object of religious significance as well as a record of the oath that had been sworn or the treaty that had been made (Lauinger, 2015, 285). Representation and persistence are not ends in themselves. Although archival scholars have sometimes attempted to explain early record-making in terms of an ‘urge to record’ or a ‘human compulsion … to put things in order and make lists’ (Delsalle and Procter, 2018, 2), a more convincing explanation is that recording practices were largely driven by needs for the affordances that records can offer in supporting individual and collective memory and in providing evidence. Records can offer these affordances over long periods of time, but the initial impetus for record-making in early societies probably arose from relatively short-term needs, as we have seen in previous chapters of this book. The intersection of records and memory has been widely explored in recent work in archival science. While memory studies is a growing field with an extensive literature across many disciplines, the particular interests of archival scholars have been in investigating how far, and in what ways, records and archives can reinforce human memory, enable the rediscovery of lost memories, create or construct memories anew, or act as correctives for memories that would otherwise be defective. Archival scholars have also discussed how

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written records relate to other memory devices and the extent to which the use of writing may displace biological memory, and some have traced the beginnings of debate on these topics to the discourses of Socrates and Plato (Brothman, 2001; Jimerson, 2015). Relations between records and evidence have also been a central focus for much archival scholarship. Archival science emphasizes that needs for evidence are not confined to legal contexts but can arise whenever matters require verification or are open to dispute; the evidential role of records is often connected to individual and institutional accountability (Iacovino, 2010). Older archival literature sometimes affirmed that records are or contain evidence, but it is now more commonly argued that evidence can be garnered through the use of records (Yeo, 2007, 325) or is an outcome of social negotiation in which records are deployed (Brothman, 2002, 334–5). Archival scholarship also suggests that evidence and memory are often intertwined in a kind of creative tension (Cook, 2013, 102), since evidence can confirm and substantiate memories and can also be constructed around them. As far as we can tell, needs for record-making first arose in situations where life was becoming more complicated and people were finding that they had too much to remember. To help overcome human forgetfulness, as we saw in Chapter 1, people began using natural objects as external memory aids and later started to construct artificial representations, assigning a symbolic meaning to durable artefacts or inscribing them with symbols. Recognition of records’ evidential role and the use of records to support accountability appear to have been later developments. Growing populations and emerging lack of trust were probably key factors in these changes. When people first began working for others – perhaps guarding someone else’s sheep alongside their own – issues of trust and accountability are likely to have been subsumed in personal relationships. If we know a shepherd well and feel confident that he will not allow our flock to diminish or suffer harm, we probably see no need for formal mechanisms to track the animals we have delegated to him. But as economies and populations expand, levels of trust decline; people are more likely to conduct business with strangers and more inclined to think that formal methods of verifying transactions are needed. In exploitative societies where workers were compelled to provide goods or labour for state institutions or ruling elites, these effects were magnified. Because there was little reason to suppose that workers would always willingly play by the rules, elite institutions began to demand accountability mechanisms. In an inegalitarian and increasingly bureaucratic world, rulers and officials who used records to underpin institutional memory found that records could also supply the evidence they needed to monitor the actions of their subordinates. The invention of writing in Mesopotamia and Egypt allowed the creation of more precise and more detailed records, but it did not alter the reasons for

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making and keeping them: like their unwritten predecessors, the earliest written records were intended to counteract forgetfulness and enforce accountability in the administration of resources. Although we should not discount the possibility that concepts such as ‘forgetfulness’ may have been understood in ways different from our own, literate Mesopotamians knew that writing could help to overcome the frailty of biological memory: they sometimes annotated their memoranda with the words ‘written … so as not to forget’ (Widell, 2009, 4). But when the evidential capabilities of records were recognized, records were sometimes created for evidential reasons even when support for memory was barely needed. In some early accounting records from Mesopotamia, the quantities recorded were small and would probably not have been difficult to remember, at least for a short time; in these cases, it has been argued, ‘bookkeeping was not about the capacity of memory … but about holding someone responsible by some kind of proof ’ (Wang Haicheng, 2014, 59; cf. Matthews, 2013, 67). Later, as record-making became more commonplace, some records may have been created simply as a matter of administrative routine, with little consideration of the affordances they could supply (Eyre, 2013, 10–12); but stronger motivations are likely to have been at work when record-making behaviour was relatively new. The first written records documented specific activities and events, and their significance was primarily administrative. They were not created to transmit generalized cultural knowledge; such transmission remained in the oral sphere long after writing was invented in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Nor were the earliest records made or kept to maintain rights in law: the use of records in connection with legal transactions, their deployment in courts of law, and their long-term retention to provide evidence of legal rights were all later developments, and – as far as we know – records were never used in these ways in early Aegean societies or in pre-Hispanic Peru. In Mesopotamia, and probably elsewhere, the earliest recording practices antedated the introduction of formal legal systems, perhaps by several millennia. It appears, then, that the emergence and growth of recording practices in early societies are not fully explicable within the frames of reference of scholars who focus on communal methods of preserving cultural traditions, or of those who seek to interpret records largely or wholly from legal or juridical perspectives. Legal uses of records gradually emerged and eventually won acceptance in the Mesopotamian and later in the Greco-Roman worlds, but suggestions that the very earliest records ‘had a juridical meaning’ (Tamblé, 1994, 410) seem unsustainable.

Records: stable or fluid? A further area of debate among archival scholars revolves around tensions, real or supposed, between stability and fluidity. Many uses of records – especially evidential uses – arguably require records that are reliably stable, but in practice qualities of stability – especially, today, in the digital realm – may not

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be easy to achieve. At a conceptual level, stability has become an unfashionable notion, and in recent years much scholarly ink has been spilt in positioning records as fluid artefacts (Yeo, 2018, 32–43). Investigation of early record-keeping has points of contact with this debate, not least because the challenges brought by today’s alterable or unstable digital media seem to be paralleled by the alterability of many media used in early societies. In Mesopotamia and the Aegean, for example, text inscribed on clay tablets could easily be overwritten if alterations were wanted before the clay had dried. When it was dry, altering a tablet became more difficult, but remoistening seems to have remained possible for up to a year. There appear to be few known instances of changes made to Mesopotamian tablets after the clay had dried, but Mycenaean Pylos offers many examples of erasures and rewritings as tablets were updated to record changing numbers of sheep in a flock (Pape et al., 2014; Taylor and Cartwright, 2011). In classical Athens, many people wrote in charcoal on whitened wooden boards; these could be wiped clean to allow boards to be reused. Waxed wood was also used; this, too, allowed alteration and erasure. Wooden boards were often used for drafts or temporary records, but also sometimes for records intended for longer-term preservation (Missiou, 2011, 113; Sickinger, 1999, 147). In the Roman era, the orator Quintilian affirmed that waxed boards provided the best writing medium, specifically because they offered easy modes of deletion (De Ste. Croix, 1956, 70). Scholars today react to alterable records in different ways. For some, the notion of rewritable records accords with a contemporary focus on fluidity and change. Terry Cook (2000, 145), for example, claimed that the Athenians ‘were comfortable with the mutability of records, … recognizing … that the record is less a fixed physical medium to be carefully guarded … than it is an evolving, changing, and constantly mediated concept’, thus linking Athenian practices to his conception of postmodern archives. Traditional archival scholarship, however, has tended to emphasize an overriding need for fixity. Records management literature, too, almost always insists that records must be stabilized (JISC, 2007), and many records managers contend that an alterable resource cannot be a record. Most early record-keepers would probably have felt little affinity to either of these seemingly incompatible views. In general, records in early societies were kept intact while immediate needs for them remained unmodified, but were liable to be altered, updated, or destroyed as soon as circumstances changed. The use of alterable media for record-keeping was open to abuse, and – as we saw at the start of this chapter – early record-keepers sometimes adopted measures to deter or prevent unauthorized amendments. But they were often willing to take advantage of potential alterability by erasing or amending records when such changes seemed legitimately necessary. Examples of prompt deletion or destruction of records can be found in most of the societies examined in this book. In Mesopotamia and the Aegean, accounting

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records were kept until they had been summarized or audited but were then often immediately destroyed. As we saw in Chapter 7, clay tablets recording private debts in Mesopotamia were usually ‘broken’ as soon as the debt was paid. Similarly, in Athens, records of tax liabilities and debts owed to the state were erased as soon as payment was made, and written agreements were destroyed when their terms had been fulfilled. The Athenian use of wooden boards meant that, when circumstances changed, a record perceived as redundant could be literally ‘wiped off’ the board (Rhodes, 2001; Sickinger, 1999, 68–70). In Peru, a few months after the Spanish invasion, when Hernando Pizarro, brother of the Spanish leader Francisco Pizarro, commandeered some goods from an Inka storehouse, he observed that the khipukamayuq untied some of the knots in the storehouse khipu (Urton, 2010, 61). The khipu was evidently used to record the current state of the storehouse. When items were removed, knots were apparently made or re-made to record the withdrawal, but the knots that had recorded the presence of the items within the storehouse were untied, and no complete record of the previous state of affairs seems to have been preserved. In much the same way, when numbers of sheep in a Mycenaean flock grew or shrank, it is unlikely that anyone saw a need to retain a record of the previous total; the perceived requirement was to update the relevant tablet to represent the altered flock size. Practices of this kind seem comparable to the digital databases of our own era, which are often designed on assumptions that existing records can simply be overwritten when circumstances alter. Some records were less amenable to this kind of updating – in the predigital age, modifying or erasing a particular entry within a handwritten document was not always as easy as untying a knot – but early literate societies offer many examples of entire documents that were destroyed or ‘broken’ as soon as the liabilities recorded in them were discharged. Occasionally, reasons for keeping records for longer periods seem to have been recognized. In Egypt, in the first millennium BC, marriage or divorce settlements were sometimes retained after their expiration, apparently because they could still serve to prove fulfilment (Pestman, 1961, 84, 178). In Greece, stone inscriptions recording treaties were sometimes obliterated when the treaty was repudiated, but were often preserved or at least allowed to remain (Bolmarcich, 2007). Generally, however, records of agreements or obligations were deemed useful only for as long as the agreement or obligation remained in force; transactional records were kept only for as long as it seemed that claims might be made against a party to the transaction or demands for verification might be received from a higher authority. Notions that records might usefully be kept for a further period in case the matter was subsequently revived, although familiar to modern records managers, were largely absent in early societies. Records in early societies were not wholly unstable or constantly mutating. They were never deemed ‘permanent’: it was almost always assumed that they could be destroyed, erased, or overwritten as soon as they ceased to meet

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current practical needs. But while the debt remained unpaid, the clay tablet that represented it was preserved intact and unaltered; while the tax liability remained outstanding, the wooden board was not wiped clean. For as long as the goods remained in the storehouse, the knots that represented them on the cords of the khipu were not untied. From an archival science perspective, a study of record-making and record-keeping in early societies alerts archivists to a key conceptual insight: records can be made on alterable media and need not be kept inviolate for all time, but elements of stability are essential if records are to fulfil their expected roles.

Record-keepers and record-keeping behaviour: then and now Although recent years have seen a considerable expansion in our knowledge of early recording practices, the individuals who took responsibility for maintaining, preserving, and retrieving records in early societies generally remain shadowy figures. Larger repositories of official archives in south-west Asia, Egypt, and Greece almost certainly had dedicated staffs performing functions not unlike those of modern archivists or records managers. But in many early societies custodians of records also functioned as accountants, administrators, or scribes: like notaries in medieval and later Europe, they commonly undertook record-making as well as record-keeping roles. In some societies, such as China under the early Zhou kings, makers and keepers of records appear to have been individuals of importance and high rank. When record-making and record-keeping were unusual or specialist activities, people who possessed the necessary skills were greatly valued. But as the use of records became more commonplace, record-keeping ceased to be perceived as an occupation demanding special talent, and the social status of record-keepers almost inevitably declined. In the Greek world, the clerks who undertook mundane tasks in record repositories were often public slaves. We have little direct evidence of how makers and keepers of records in early societies understood their daily work. They have left us no treatises on archival science, and we have no grounds for supposing that they thought about records and record-keeping in conceptual terms. If we are suitably cautious, however, we can invoke concepts, ideas, or theoretical frameworks derived from today’s archival science to help us investigate and comprehend the records and archives of other eras and other cultures. As khipu scholar Galen Brokaw (2014, 168) observed, we need not reject the use of contemporary ideas when analysing aspects of earlier cultures that are not known to have been addressed conceptually by members of the culture in question. In examining early practices from a present-day viewpoint, we must take care not to assimilate the concerns, needs, and methods of early societies too closely to modern norms. Every society discovered a need for records at its own pace, and every society made, kept, and used records in its own way. Nevertheless, while we should not assume that record-keeping behaviour in

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earlier times was always directly comparable to our own, we can identify some recurring features. All societies that have discovered a need for records have faced broadly similar challenges of how best to achieve persistence and representation and how to maintain, protect, preserve, and use records most effectively, within their own cultural settings: challenges that we still face in 21st-century cultural settings today.

Notes 1 Posner’s account of record-keeping in Greece is similarly open to question. It was condemned as anachronistic by Rosalind Thomas (1992), who claimed that Posner took for granted archival practices more appropriate to his own era. Many of Thomas’s arguments about the limitations of ancient Greek record-keeping were refuted by James Sickinger (1999), and James O’Toole (2003, xx–xxii) affirmed that Sickinger’s work vindicated Posner’s view of continuity. Nevertheless, Greek recordkeeping bore less resemblance to modern practice than Posner may have believed. Like his depiction of Egypt, Posner’s account of Greece and the Hellenistic world largely reflects the ideas of early-twentieth-century scholars, and parts of it now seem in need of revision. 2 The Archivo de Simancas was – and is – the central repository for records of the Castilian monarchy. 3 The reconstructive drawing of the repository in Matthiae (1980, 153), which depicts shelving arrangements at Ebla in a way that modern readers may find reassuringly familiar, has been reproduced in at least six other publications by various authors. See also the revised versions of the drawing in Matthiae et al. (1995, 122) and Matthiae (2013, 62). 4 See, for example, Abukhanfusa and Sydbeck (1994, 53, 87, 149); Lodolini (1985, 129, 150). 5 For a discussion of similar phenomena in archives today, see Barrett (2013). Suggestions of a dichotomy between personal and institutional domains are critiqued from an archival perspective by McKemmish and Piggott (2013) and from an Assyriological perspective by Garfinkle (2005) and Postgate (2015).

References Abukhanfusa, Kerstin, and Jan Sydbeck, eds. (1994) The Principle of Provenance, Riksarkivet. Bailey, Jefferson (2013) ‘Disrespect des Fonds: Rethinking Arrangement and Description in Born-Digital Archives’, Archive Journal 3, essays/disrespect-des-fonds-rethinking-arrangement-and-description-in-born-digitalarchives/ Barbieri-Low, Anthony J., and Robin D. S. Yates (2015) Law, State and Society in Early Imperial China, vol. 2, Brill. Barisone, Albertino (1737) ‘De archivis’, in Giovanni Poleni, ed., Utriusque thesauri antiquitatum Romanarum Graecarumque nova supplementa, vol. 1, Pasquali. Barrett, Creighton (2013) ‘Respect Which Fonds? Personal Archives and Family Businesses in Nova Scotia’, Archivaria 76: 75–92. Bolmarcich, Sarah (2007) ‘The Afterlife of a Treaty’, Classical Quarterly 57 (2): 477– 488.

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Chronological chart 100,000 BC Stone tools



Earliest cave art

First agricultural villages

Emergence of spoken language



First cities

Tokens Earliest tallies?

Sealed clay envelopes

Pottery marks

Invention of papyrus in Egypt

Seals Door sealings Impressed clay tablets

South-west Asia, North Africa, Eastern Mediterranean

Writing emerges in Mesopotamia and Egypt Protocuneiform accounting records Inscribed tags from Tomb U-j

Pottery marks



Writing encodes spoken language

First records of land transactions First judicial records First letters First mercantile records Ebla archives

Knot records? (attributed to Shennong)



AD 1

Assyrian merchants’ records at Kaneš

Ebabbar temple archive at Sippar

Mari archives (reign of Zimrī-Līm)

Writing reintroduced in Greece

Law code of Hammurabi

Written laws in Athens

Egyptian ‘Duties of the Vizier’



Report on Herakleides repository in Roman Egypt Tebtunis grapheion archive

Mētrōon established

‘Store for documents of Pharaoh’ at Amarna Hittite records Minoan Linear A Mycenaean Linear B Written records of divination procedures Inscribed bronze vessels

Ptolemaic Egypt: use of cheirographs Record repositories and registration systems widespread in Greece and Hellenistic world Earliest surviving records on wood and bamboo Administrative and legal records from Shao Tuo’s tomb Use of population registers to record all households

Precursors of writing in Mesoamerica

Zapotec script

Maya inscriptions

Early khipus in the Andes

Aztec records Matrícula de tributos Inka khipus Peruvian khipu use ends


abacus 80 Abraham, oath sworn by 156 Abusir 62, 99, 102, 115 n2 Abydos 61, 62 accountability 86–7, 127, 138, 139, 183–4 accountants 16, 76, 83, 127, 171 accounting records: in China 71, 73; in Egypt 62, 102, 115 n4, 127, 174; in Greece and the Aegean region 66, 67, 68, 109, 110, 139, 174, 185–6; in Mesoamerica 76, 77; in Mesopotamia 49, 53, 98, 103, 126–7, 140–1 n1, 174, 184, 185–6; in Peru 83, 84 administration xvii, 20, 35–8, 43, 47–9, 63, 88 n3, 107–8 administrative records: in China 69, 71–3, 86–8, 176–7; in Egypt 61, 87–8, 103, 127, 134; in Greece and the Aegean region 64, 65, 66, 109, 110; in Mesoamerica 77, 79, 86; in Mesopotamia 47–9, 52–3, 55–6, 86–8, 98–9, 126–7, 138, 184; in Peru 80, 83, 84–5, 86–7 adoption records 99, 130, 160 Aegean region 63–8, 108, 150, 152, 173, 185 Africa 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15, 18, 19 agriculture 12, 15–18, 20, 62, 85 Aguilar-Moreno, Manuel 79 Akkadian language 96 Alalakh xviii n1, 97, 151, 172 Alaska 6, 13 Alexander the Great 111–12 Alla, son of Azi 157–8 Altamira 5–6 Alva Ixtlilxóchitl, Fernando de 78 Amarna 103 America x, xvi, 3, 5, 8, 13, 74, 154

amphorae 32 amulets 33, 64 Amun, temple of 128 Anatolia 16, 97, 127–8, 129; Assyrian merchants in 97, 101, 102, 130, 133, 174, 180 ancestors, commemoration of 4, 71–2, 150 Andrae, Dominic 3 animal-fattener 103 animals: counts of 12, 14–15, 17–18, 21 n3, 21–2 n7, 81, 185; domestication of 12; images of 5–6, 20 n1; records of kills 11, 15; signals and alarm calls 149–50 antlers 10, 12 appointments of officials 72, 105, 164 apprenticeship 110, 130 archeion 111, 115–16 n8 architect’s plans 99 archival description 104 archives xi, 102; distinguished from libraries ix, xviii n1; family or personal 102, 104, 105, 106, 130–1, 133; institutional or official 102–4, 133, 172; intermixing of institutional and personal 180; supposed sealing ‘archives’ 37–9; see also repositories Archivo de Simancas 172, 188 n2 archo-n 110–11, 115 n7 Arrernte people 3 Arslantepe 35–6, 37, 43 Asia 13; south-west 10, 15–20, 32–6, 43, 96–100, 104–5, 135–6 assertive acts 148–53, 154, 157, 159, 163–4 Aššur 102, 103, 104, 106, 133, 135, 177 Assyria and Assyrians 105, 132, 136, 139, 155, 181, 182; merchants 97, 101–2, 104, 130, 133, 157, 174–5, 180

Index Athens 107–11, 114, 115 n7, 125, 139–40, 185–6 auditing 37–8, 64, 139 Austin, J. L. 147–8, 154 Australia 3, 6–7, 13 authenticity 136 Aztec empire 76–8, 86, 87, 172 Ba-bu-aḫa-iddina 135, 155 Babylon 112 Babylonia and Babylonians 54, 97, 102, 106, 130, 131–3, 136, 156 Bagley, Robert 70 bailiffs 110 Baines, John xii, 103, 137 Balkans 17, 32, 39 n2 bamboo xv, 71–2 bankers 111, 114 Barbieri-Low, Anthony 73 Barisone, Albertino 169 Batalla Rosado, Juan José 77 beans 15 Belize 75 Benin 19 Bennison-Chapman, Lucy 21 n4 Berg, Marc 147 Bestock, Laurel 61 births 18, 76, 105, 115 n6 body scarring and cutting xviii n2, 11 Bolivia 15, 80, 82 bone xi, 4, 10–11, 12, 14, 32, 61, 70–1 Bonifacio, Baldassare 169, 172 Boone, Elizabeth Hill 76 Borgmann, Albert 3, 4 Bouleute-rion 110 boundary marks 4–5 Bradsher, Gregory 169 brewers and brewery 49, 103 Brezine, Carrie 83 Britain 124 Brokaw, Galen 187 bronze, inscriptions on 30, 71–2, 123–4, 150 bureaucracy 35–6, 48–9, 67, 73–4, 177 burials 4, 8, 33, 61 business and commercial records, private 99, 108; see also merchants; trade Byblos 128 cairns 8 Calancha, Antonio de la 81, 82 Carthage 113


cases 51–2 cavalry commanders 110 cave art 5–6, 9, 20 n1 census: see population and census records ceremonies 2, 6, 11, 54, 72, 164 Cervantes de Salazar, Francisco 79 Chadwick, John 66 Chalcidic peninsula 111 Charpin, Dominique 100, 130 charters, medieval 164 Chauvet 6 cheirographs 162 Chile 13, 79 China: clay ‘tokens’ 17; constructing mound as landmark 123–4; divination 69–71, 87, 151, 152, 177; emergence and early uses of writing 68–72, 85–8; Han dynasty 73, 86, 152, 181; knotted-cord records 13, 69; marks or inscriptions on pottery, bronzes, and other vessels 30, 31, 69, 71–2, 150; official appointments 72, 164; originals and copies of records 181; proliferation of records 72–4, 96; protection and security of records 172–3; records in tombs 176–7; reliability or accuracy of records 152; repositories 171; seals 32; Shang dynasty 70–1, 87; survival of records xv, 71; tallies 69, 124; Zhou dynasty 71–2, 187 chreophylakion 111 Cieza de León, Pedro de 84 Clanchy, Michael 126 clay: availability and manipulability of 16; baking of 171; drying and hardening of 45, 185; durability of xv, 45; envelopes 19, 21–2 n6–7, 43–5, 56, 124, 171, 178; stamps and sealings 32–9, 43, 61–2, 63–5, 68, 113; tablets 44–56, 65–8, 96–104, 112–13, 122, 128, 133, 162–3, 171, 178, 185; tokens 16–19, 43–5 Cobo, Bernabé 83, 84 Codex Azoyú 78 Codex Humboldt 78 Codex Kingsborough 78 Codex Mendoza 78, 79 colophons 181 commissive acts 148–9, 154–8, 161–2

198 Index containers: marking or labelling of 30–2, 60–2; sealing of 33–7, 39, 56, 60, 64, 173; used to store tokens 18–19, 124; used to store written records 68, 103, 104, 173 contracts 110, 155, 161, 162 Cook, Terry 165, 185 Cooper, Jerrold 96 copies: see duplicates and copies Cortés, Hernán 77 counting 8–18, 21 n3–4, 21–2 n7, 44–5 courier service 73 courts of law: procedures in 105, 108, 136, 151, 155, 177; records created and kept by 105, 131; records of judgements, issued to litigants by 105–6, 130; records used in 110, 131–3, 134, 139, 158, 184; role of witnesses in 131–2, 139; summonses 155; ‘suprarational’ procedures 136 craft manufacture 135 Cretan Hieroglyphic 64–5 Crete 37, 63–8, 85, 87, 109, 123 Cubitt, Geoffrey 3 cultural knowledge transmission xii–xiii, 1–3, 84–5, 122, 184 cuneiform 21 n5, 46, 50, 52, 96–7 curses 128 cylinder seals 36, 60 Cyrene 113 Dahomey 19 Damerow, Peter 46 dance 2, 75 Daniels, Peter 125 Darius 13 dating of records 48, 55–6, 62–3, 75–6 deaths 18, 105, 115 n6; see also burials debts 73, 98, 99, 133, 136, 162–3, 186 declarative acts 148–9, 154, 158, 164–5 decrees 110, 139, 181 Deir el-Bahri x Delos 114 demes and deme registers 111, 140, 176 democracy 107–8, 109, 139 Denmark, farmers in 14 Derrida, Jacques 115 n7 Díaz del Castillo, Bernal 74, 77, 172 directive acts 148–50, 151–2, 154, 155 dispositive records 149, 164, 165 divination 69–71, 87, 104, 151, 152, 177 divorce 132, 134, 165, 186

Djekhy 180 Donald, Merlin 123, 125 doorkeepers 139 doors, sealing of 35–7, 39, 56, 62, 64, 102, 173 dossiers 178 ‘double documents’ 171 Driessen, Jan 38 Du Toit, Jaqueline 174 Duistermaat, Kim 33, 35, 38 duplicates and copies 84, 87, 106, 115, 129, 171, 181 Dura-Europos 113 Durán, Diego 78 Durand, Jean-Marie 129 Duranti, Luciana 104 ‘Duties of the Vizier’ 102, 134 Ebabbar temple 133 Ebla 97, 101–2, 103, 104, 115 n2, 135, 174, 175, 188 n3 Ecuador 79 Egibis 130–1 Egypt: emergence and early uses of writing in 61–3, 87–8, 115 n4, 137–8; iconic records in x; marks on pottery and personal property 30, 31–2, 60; oral practices 136–7; Posner’s account of 169–70; proliferation of records in 96–107, 134–5, 138–9; protection and security of records 171, 175; Ptolemaic era 105, 112, 134, 136, 164, 176, 180; records of assertive, commissive, declarative, and directive acts 151–3, 160–4; registration practices and procedures 107, 112, 134; repositories 112, 176, 180; retention, storage, and arrangement of records 102–7, 112, 115 n2, 129, 175, 176, 180, 186; Roman era 134–5, 164, 176, 180; seals and sealings 32, 38, 60–2, 136; survival of records 97, 134; uses and users of records 103, 114, 127–8, 131, 134 El Salvador 78 Elam 123 elites: emergence of 35; manipulation and control of resources by 35, 48–9, 66, 85–7, 138; records serving interests of 86, 88, 102, 138, 183; records used to benefit others beyond 138–9 Emar 106, 132 Englund, Robert 46



Enmerkar 100 Ennam-Aššur 104 envelopes, clay 19, 21–2 n6–7, 43–5, 56, 124, 171, 178 Epicurus 110 Eritha 67 Esarhaddon 128 Euripides 109 Europe: medieval 19, 164; prehistoric 10, 15 evidence 9, 73, 86–7, 129, 130–3, 134, 183–4 exograms 123, 150 expressive acts 148, 149 extrinsic symbolization 9 Eyre, Christopher 134, 137, 170

Ghana 125 Gilgamesh 11 Gilliland, Anne 170 Girsu 104, 105, 131, 172 Godin Tepe 101 goldsmiths 139 Goody, Jack 125 Gortyn 109, 159 grammatophylakion 111, 112 granaries: see storehouses and granaries grapheion 112, 180 Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) 62 Greece 32, 63–8, 107–12, 114–15, 122, 139–40, 141 n6, 159, 186–7, 188 n1; see also Aegean region Guatemala 75, 76

Fa-ra 50 Faraguna, Michele 111 Farge, Arlette xiii farming: see agriculture Favier, Jean 177 feasts and feasting 4, 54 Ferioli, Piera 37–8, 39 n3 Fiandra, Enrica 35, 37–8, 39 n3 fields: boundaries and measurements of 78–9, 107; leases of 162; maps and drawings of 78–9, 99; occupancy of 54, 78–9; sales and purchases of 54–5, 72, 98, 123, 159–60, 178 Fiji 11, 14 files 38, 178, 179 finding aids 104, 115 n2 fines, registers of 73 fire precautions 172 Fissore, Gian Giacomo 39 n3, 169 fonds 177–8, 179–80, 181 food storage 12, 16–17 footprints 4–5 forgery 136–7 Fournet, Jean-Luc ix France 3, 5, 164, 177 Frangipane, Marcella 35, 37 fraud, safeguards against 84, 171 Fuentes y Guzmán, Francisco Antonio de 78

Habuba Kabira 44 Halikarnassos 109 Hall, Jonathan 108 Hallowell, Irving 9 Halverson, John 125 Hammurabi 180; law code of 133 handwriting 67, 134 Harris, William 138 Hatshepsut x Ḫattuša 173 Ḫattušili III 129 Haussoullier, Bernard 111 Hebrew scriptures 156, 157 Hekanakht 102 Hellenistic world 98, 111–15 Herakleides district 176 heralds 54, 135, 163 Herbert, Sharon 113 herders and herding 12, 17–18, 21 n3, 21–2 n7, 82, 99 Herodotus 13 Hittite kingdom 97, 127–8, 129, 172, 173–4, 180, 181 Honduras 75 houses: records stored in 66, 102, 106, 133, 172, 173, 180; sales and purchases of 54, 98, 130–1, 159, 172 Hungary 32 hunter-gatherers 10–12 Hyland, Sabine 82

Garcilaso de la Vega 81, 84 Gebelein 102 Geme-Asalluhi 132 genealogies 2, 6, 77 gestures 1, 9, 150

Ibbi-Sumuqan 132 identity: communal 3; personal and family 31, 33–4, 36 Ierapetra 123

200 Index Ilongot people 154 Inana-mansum 102, 173 India 32, 125 Indonesia 5 Indus valley script xiv Inka empire xvi, 79–85, 85–6, 87, 171, 172, 175 inventories 65, 99, 104, 110 Invernizzi, Antonio 114 Iran 16, 19, 35, 38, 45, 96, 101, 123 Iraq 16, 19, 35, 38, 45, 96, 101; see also Mesopotamia Iroquois 88 n2 Israel 19, 32, 43 Italy 17, 32, 172 Iturech 180 ivory 61, 62 Jacob, commitments made by 157 Janssen, Caroline 178 jewellery and personal ornaments 33, 63–4 Jimerson, Randall 126, 170 Johnson, Samuel 126 Judaic law 165 Justeson, John 74 Kaneš 97, 103, 130, 180, 181 Karagianni, Angeliki 64 Kea 64 Kelly, Piers 20 n2 khipu xvii, 79–86, 123, 124, 151–2, 171, 172, 175, 186 khipu boards 82 khipukamayuq 80, 83, 86, 186 kings and rulers: honouring and celebrating achievements of 2, 75–6, 88 n3; reinforcing power and authority of 85–7, 127–8, 137–8, 183–4 K’inich Yo’nal Ahk 76 Knossos 63, 66, 68, 173 knots and knotted-cord records xi, xvi, xvii, 13, 18, 69, 79–86, 124–5, 186 Koepsell, David 10 Kongo people 6 Koziol, Geoffrey 3 Krzyszkowska, Olga 63 Laban, commitments made by 157 labelling: of goods and property 30–2, 61–2, 87; of records and record containers 104–5, 115 n5; of tribute 76

labour: agreements 162; compulsory 73, 83, 86, 172, 183; duty rosters 99; hire of 110; performance of 47, 82, 83 labourers and manual workers 31, 36, 39 n1, 47, 86, 87 Lagaš 55, 104 Laḫar-Ašnan 17–18 Lamberg-Karlovsky, Carl 122–3 land: connections to communities 3, 4, 29, 53; grants of 55, 72, 181; occupancy of 53–4, 66, 67, 78–9; ownership of or rights to 29, 53–4, 88, 112; registers 107, 111, 112–13, 131, 141 n5; transactions relating to 53–5, 72, 88, 98, 106–7, 123–4, 130–3, 135–6, 157–62, 163 landscape 3, 4–5, 8 Larsen, Mogens 138 Lascaux 5–6, 9 law 184; codes of 109, 132–3, 134, 159; systems of 149, 155; written 109–10; see also courts of law; legal and judicial records; litigation Lawson, Andrew 20 n1 leases 136, 161–2 legal and judicial records 55, 67, 72–3, 98, 103, 105, 107, 138, 184 ‘Legal Manual of Hermopolis’ 134 Leibsohn, Dana 137 Lerna 64 lessors, public 110 letters and letter-writing 84, 99–101, 108, 109–10, 125, 135, 140, 151–3, 161–2; retention and storage of letters 101, 103, 115 n2, 129–30 Lewis-Williams, David 9 libraries ix–x, xviii n1 Libya 113 Lichter, Clemens 32 Linear A script 64–6 Linear B script 65–8 literacy 67, 68, 97, 100, 108–9, 123–5, 135, 138–9 literary texts ix–x, xviii n1, 99, 181 litigation: records of 99, 105, 151; use of records in 114, 131–3, 134, 158; see also courts of law loans 73, 99, 110, 125, 130, 136, 156, 162 López de Cogolludo, Diego 172 López de Gómara, Francisco 79 Luba kingdom 6 lukasa 6

Index magic 33, 35, 38, 153–4 Maiseti 152 manual workers: see labourers and manual workers manumissions 109, 131, 133, 160, 164 maps and plans 99 Mari 102, 103, 104, 127, 129, 173, 180 marriages and marriage settlements 99, 105, 128, 132, 134, 180, 186 Matrícula de tributos 77–8, 79 Maya inscriptions and writings 30, 75–6, 172 McKenzie, Donald 3, 137 memory 1–2, 10, 15, 109, 122, 125, 132, 182–3; aids to xii, 2–4, 6–8, 12, 54, 84, 100, 150, 183–4 memory-boards 6, 150 Menninger, Karl 8 merchants 99, 138, 156; Assyrian 97, 101–2, 104, 130, 133, 157, 174–5, 180 Mesoamerica xvi, 74–9, 85, 150, 152, 171–2 Mesopotamia: emergence and early uses of writing in 43–56, 85–8, 137–8, 184; modifying or destroying records 162, 174–5, 185; oral practices 54, 115 n6, 135–7, 155; originals and copies of records 181; proliferation of records 96–106, 138–9; protection and security of records 18–19, 114, 171; records of assertive, commissive, declarative, and directive acts 150–2, 155–63; registration practices and procedures 106, 112; retention, storage, and arrangement of records xviii n1, 101–6, 126–31, 140–1, 172–5, 177–8, 180; seals and sealings 36, 56, 136, 163; survival of evidence from xv; tokens 16–20, 43–4, 124; uses and users of records 127, 131–3, 138–9, 184 message-sticks 6–8, 20–1 n2, 150 messengers 6, 21n2, 100, 101, 125, 127–8 Me-tro-on 110–11, 114, 115 n7, 139, 141 n4 Mexico 74–8 military affairs: capture of prisoners and booty 71, 75, 152; commemoration of victories and exploits x, 11, 77; communications from officers and commanders 101, 125, 140, 152; lists of individuals liable to military service


127; see also war, acts of declaring and terminating Minoans 63–5, 108, 123 mne-mo-n 109 moieties 83 moneylenders 125 Mongolia, Inner 73 monoliths 4 Montezuma 77, 172 monumental texts 74–6, 88 n3, 150 Morris, Ian 108 mounds 8, 123–4 Mozi 122 Murúa, Martín de 81, 172 museums viii, 181 Mycenae 66, 68 Mycenaeans 65–8, 87, 108, 122, 173, 180, 185, 186 Narâmtani 132 Narmer 62–3 Native Americans 88 n2; see also Iroquois; Salish Neferirkare, temple of 102 Nemea 109 Ngala people 11 Nicias 125, 126, 140 Nigeria 148 Nineveh 106 Nippur 127, 156 Nissen, Hans 51 nkisi 6–7, 182 nomadism 10, 12, 28, 101 non-textual records xi–xii, xiv, xviii n2, 7, 9–20, 30–9, 85, 123–5; in the Aegean region 63–5; in China 13, 17, 30, 32, 69, 123–4; in Egypt 30, 31–2, 60–1; in Mesoamerica 74; in Mesopotamia and south-west Asia 11, 15–20, 32–9, 43–6, 124; in Peru 79–85, 85–6, 124 notaries 112, 187 numbers and numerals 47–8, 69, 74, 80 Nuzi 21–2 n7, 102, 104, 136 oaths 136, 156–7, 172, 182 obligations 67, 82, 130, 149, 154–5, 157–8, 161–2, 186 oil-pressers 103, 139 Olmec people 74 one-to-one correspondence 14, 44, 47–8, 57 n2, 80 Ong, Walter 148, 153–4

202 Index Oppenheim, Leo 21 n7 oral communications and practices 2, 6–7, 54, 125, 135–7, 140, 150, 155, 160, 163–4; oral traditions xiii, 122, 126; verbal testimony 67, 115 n6, 126, 131–2, 136–7, 139–40; see also spoken language ordeals 136 originals 181 O’Toole, James 169, 174, 177, 178, 188 n1 ownership 28–30, 35, 53–4, 67, 88, 112; marks and symbols of 30–2, 34, 61, 69 Pakistan 30 palaces 35, 63–8, 73, 77, 85; records found in 66, 106, 128, 129, 180; records of administration 36, 65, 66–7, 68, 98, 103; records stored in xviii n1, 19, 68, 101–2, 103, 106, 126–7, 173 papyrus 62, 104, 107, 109, 112, 134, 175 parchment 65, 113 Paros 171 partnership agreements 130 ‘passports’ 21 n2, 64, 69 Pébarthe, Christophe 141 n6 pebbles 8–9, 15, 19, 21 n7 Peloponnesian War 109, 125 Pengsheng 123–4 performativity xi, 147–8, 153–4, 163–4, 165 Persia, king and empire of 13, 112 persistence x, 5, 12–13, 182 personal records 55, 88, 98, 100–1, 106, 114, 130–1, 133, 139, 180; records kept in private houses 66, 102, 106, 133, 173, 180; records of private business and commerce 99, 108 Peru 15, 79–82, 85, 87, 123, 124, 171, 186 petitions 72, 134 Phaedrus 122 Phaistos 64 Philippines, peoples of 11, 154 Phoenicia 128 pictography 46, 75, 76–8, 88 n2 Piedras Negras 76 Pittman, Holly 34, 36 Pizarro, Hernando 186 planning, records used in 127 Plato 122, 126, 183 poems, Mesopotamian 17, 100

population and census records 19, 73, 78–9, 80, 81, 172–3, 181 portable devices 6–8 Posner, Ernst viii, xi, 169–70, 178, 188 n1 Postgate, Nicholas 132–3, 155 pottery: marking of xvi, 30–2, 60–1, 69; pits filled with 4; sealing of 33–5, 60; written inscriptions on 30, 108 precedents 128 promises 154–5, 157, 161 proto-cuneiform 21 n5, 46–51, 56 n1, 88 n2 provenance 177 Psemminis 162 Punt, land known as x Puzur-Gula 136 Pylos 66, 67, 68, 173, 174, 185 pyramids 62 Qiu Wei 72 Quintilian 185 quitclaims 99 quorum, verification of 140 Ramesses II 129 Ramesses III, temple of 105 Raneferef, temple of 102 rations and ration lists 36, 49, 50, 55, 64, 66, 73, 152 reading aloud 101, 133, 164 receipts 56, 64, 73, 130, 134, 178 recitation 2, 6–7, 75, 84, 150 records: affordances of 182–4; arrangement of 103–4, 177–8; authenticity of 136; characterizations and conceptions of ix–x, xi, 6, 7, 181–2, 185, 187; confidence in 126–35, 137; connections to actions and events x, xi, xiii, 147–9, 151–2, 158, 159–65; connections to cultural knowledge transmission xii–xiii, 184; conservation work on 176; containers for 18–19, 68, 104, 173; contextual relationships of xi, 177–9; conventional x–xi; custodial history of 179; custodians and keepers of 104–5, 107, 112, 170, 172, 175–6, 187; damage to or loss of 18–19, 130, 172, 175, 176; derivation of word 7; destruction of 127, 128, 162, 172–3, 174–5, 185–6; durability of x, xi, xv, 71; iconic x; importance attributed to

Index 126–33; integrity of 19, 45, 171; ‘life cycle’ of 174; modifying or making alterations to 18, 45, 112, 171, 185–7; packaging or wrapping of 130, 175; performativity of xi, 147–9, 163, 165; as persistent representations x–xi, 10, 147, 181–2; public accessibility of 114–15, 139, 172; quantitative 12, 15, 16, 17, 43–4, 47–8, 84, 85, 150; regulations for transfer 176; restricted access to 18–19, 44, 65, 66, 102, 114, 172–3; retention and preservation of xi, 68, 101, 110, 126–31, 141 n4, 173–5, 186–7; reliability or accuracy of 152–3; retrieval of 104–5, 130; security of 19–20, 43–4, 102, 114, 171, 172–3, 175; stability or fluidity of 184–7; storage of xviii n1, 68, 101–7, 110–11, 112–14, 171–6, 177–8, 179–80; survival of xi, xv, 45, 68, 97; as systems of control 85–7, 137–8, 183–4; tampering with 18–20, 43–4, 112, 171; transactional 12, 16, 45, 49, 51–5, 66, 125, 186; transporting of 73, 130; uses and users of xi, xii–xiii, 103, 114–15, 127–8, 131–3, 134, 138–9, 183–4; varying interpretations of 49–51, 67, 178–9 registration 106, 107, 111, 112–13, 114, 134 Regulski, Ilona 61 Reichel, Clemens 21 n4, 53 religion and religious texts 99, 153, 182 remembrancers 109 repositories xi, 106, 110, 111, 112–15, 171–6, 180; officers and staff of 176, 180, 187 representation x–xi, 9–10, 13–16, 43–53, 147, 182 respect des fonds 177 rewards for arresting lawbreakers 73 rights and privileges 28–9, 53, 72, 130–1, 149, 154, 163, 165 rites and ritual 2, 6, 16, 38, 61, 153, 159, 164 Robb, Kevin 110 Robinson, Douglas 153–4 Robson, Eleanor 21 n4, 51, 52 rock art 5 Roman era and Roman empire 32, 113, 134–5, 164, 176, 180, 185 Runic stones 150


Sahagún, Bernardino de 77 sales, purchases, and transfers of land or other property 53–4, 88, 158–9, 161; in China 72, 123–4; in Egypt 62–3, 107, 112, 131, 134, 160, 161–2, 163; in Greece 111, 159; in Mesopotamia 53–5, 98, 106, 112–13, 130–3, 135, 157–8, 159–60, 161–2, 163, 178 Šalim-Aššur 133, 157 Salish 3, 4 Salomon, Frank 81, 124 Samoa 154 Samothrace 64 Saul, oath sworn by 156 Schmandt-Besserat, Denise 10, 14, 15, 16, 19, 21 n5, 43 Schoep, Ilse 65 screenfold books 76–7 scribes 72, 73, 76, 86, 97, 158, 160, 162 seals and sealings: before writing 32–9, 43–6, 60–1, 63–4, 182; in societies with written records 56, 61–2, 64–5, 68, 102, 113–14, 136, 163, 173, 181 Searle, John 147–8 Seleucia-on-the-Tigris 113–14 series 38, 178, 179 Sha‘ar Hagolan 43 Shao Tuo 73, 176–7, 178–9 shells 8, 19, 32, 70–1 shelves 103, 104 Shemsha-ra 127, 174 Shennong 69 shufu 171 Sickinger, James 110, 139, 141 n6, 188 n1 signatures 134, 163 Sippar xviii n1, 102, 133, 173 slaves 13, 39 n1, 98, 113, 133, 159, 187; see also manumissions Slovenia 17 Smith, Barry 10 social stratification 12, 29, 35, 85 Socrates 141 n4, 183 songs 2, 75, 150 Spain 5, 177 Spanish invaders and colonists in the Americas 74, 76–8, 123 Spanish writers and chroniclers 77–8, 79, 81, 84, 172 Sparta 111 speech-act theory 147–50, 153, 163

204 Index spoken language 1–2, 9, 122, 148–50, 153–8; encoded in writing 52–3, 88, 98–9 Sri Lanka 8 stamps 32–3, 36, 39 n2 states, emergence of 85–7 status, indicators and marks of 36, 64, 75 Steinkeller, Piotr 20, 54 sticks xi, 9, 10; see also message-sticks; tallies stone: monuments and memorials 4, 74–5, 150, 157; patterns incised on 32; records inscribed on 54–5, 98, 129, 139, 186; tokens 16; tools 1, 11, 28; see also pebbles storage: of food 12, 16–17; of goods 33–5, 49, 60, 62, 63–4, 65, 80; of records xviii n1, 68, 101–7, 110–11, 112–14, 171–6, 177–8, 179–80; of sealings 36–9 storehouses and granaries 12, 34, 80, 114; records of commodities entering, leaving, or stored in 12, 18, 49, 51, 53, 79, 80, 186 stylus 45, 46 Sudan 15, 17, 38 Sumatra 148 Sumerian language 52, 96 summonses 155 Šuppiluliuma I 128 symbolic actions 54, 157, 159, 160 syngraphophylakes 112, 114 Syria 16, 19, 32–3, 35, 38, 43, 45, 96–7, 113 tablets, clay 44–56, 65–8, 96–104, 112–13, 122, 128, 133, 178, 185; baked 171; breaking of 162–3; impressed 45, 56 n1, 57 n2; as negotiable instruments of credit 163 tags 61–3 talismans 33, 35 tallies 10–15, 17–18, 19–20, 69, 74, 124–5 Tamblé, Donato 38 tanners 139 Tarḫunta-radu 128 tattooing xviii n2 taxes and taxation 48, 67, 73, 107, 112, 114, 172, 186 Tebtunis 180 Tell Bouqras 33 Tell el-Kerkh 33–4

Tell el-Kowm 33 Tell Leilan 127, 128, 129 Tell Sabi Abyad 33–4, 36, 38, 43 Tell Tayinat 172 templates 73 temples x, 31, 48, 85, 128; archives of 102, 133; offerings brought to 31, 50; records deposited or stored in xviii n1, 101, 103, 105, 106, 114, 129, 132, 171, 181, 182; records displayed in 172, 181, 182; records found in or near 19, 98, 99, 102, 106, 115 n2, 180; records of administration 19, 98, 101, 110, 129, 133; records of deliveries 19, 48, 51, 53; records of inspection of door sealings 62 Tenochtitlan 74, 77, 79 Tenos 111 Tepe Yahya 44 Thebes (Egypt) 162 Thebes (Greece) 66 Thomas, Rosalind 141 n6, 188 n1 Thucydides 125 tiger-hunting 70–1 time: conceptual understandings of xiii, 17, 29–30, 55; tracking the passage of 11, 13 Tiryns 66 title deeds 130–1, 138, 175, 176 Tixualahtun 172 tlacuilolli 76 tlacuiloque 76, 78 Tlapa, province of 78, 87 tokens 16–20, 21–2 n4–7, 43–7, 57 n2, 124 tombs 61, 176–7; plans of 99; tomb U-j 61, 63, 88 n1 Tonga 154 trade 31, 99, 101, 125, 130; maritime commerce 110; shipping cargoes 108, 127; see also merchants treasuries and treasurers 110, 114 treaties 99, 103, 110, 128–9, 181, 182, 186 tribute 76, 77–8, 79, 80, 83, 84, 87, 151–2 Troy 123 Turkey 32, 35, 38, 43, 97, 111, 113; see also Anatolia Turkmenistan 17 twigs 4–5, 15 Ugarit 97, 103, 106, 128, 136, 160, 173, 177 Ur 101 Ur-Nusku 156

Index Ur-Utu 130–1, 133, 178 urbanization 48–9, 85, 86 Urdu-Nana-ia 136 Urton, Gary 80, 83, 85 Uruk 19, 48–9, 96, 98, 123 Valavanis, Panos 115 n8 Van Soldt, Wilfred 173 Vedda people 8 Veenhof, Klaas 98, 105 Ventris, Michael 66 vervet monkeys 149–50 villages and villagers 12, 17, 80, 81–2, 112, 124, 135 vizier 102–3, 107, 114, 131, 134 Wadi al-Jarf 62, 115 n2 wampum 154 war, acts of declaring and terminating 148 ‘war record robes’ x wayfinding 4–5 Wegner, Josef 60 Wenamun 128 Wengrow, David 62 wills 99, 109, 111, 160–1, 164 witnesses 54, 109, 131–2, 134, 135–6, 139–40, 159–60, 163, 164 women, as letter-writers and business associates 101 wood xv, 6, 12, 19, 32, 72 wooden boards, waxed or whitened 109, 185–6 writing xi–xii, 122–6; expectations or requirements for use of 133, 149, 161,


163; inclusive understandings of 88 n2; origins and early development of 21 n5, 46–56, 61–3, 64, 69–70, 74, 86, 88 n3, 100, 137–8; prose 52–3, 55, 62, 100, 138; relationship to speech 52, 122, 125–6; used alongside or in conjunction with non-textual methods 21 n7, 54, 64, 67, 82, 123–4, 135–7, 139, 163–5; see also pictography written records 85–8, 122–6, 137–40, 149, 150, 164–5; in China 69–74, 86–7, 96, 123–4, 151, 152, 164; in Egypt 61–3, 96–107, 112, 114, 127–9, 131, 134–5, 136–9, 151–3, 160–4; in Greece, the Aegean region, and the Hellenistic world 64–8, 107–15, 122, 125, 139–41, 150, 152; in Mesoamerica 75–9; in Mesopotamia and south-west Asia 46–56, 86, 96–107, 112–14, 123, 126–39, 150–2, 155–63, 184 Yates, Robin 73 Yaxchilán 75 Yoruba people 148 Zapotec people 74 Zárate, Agustín de 172 Zenon 180 Zeugma 113 Zimansky, Paul 16 Zimrı--Lı-m 104, 127, 129, 180 Zorita, Alonso de 78