Ägyptologische „Binsen“-Weisheiten IV: Hieratic of the New Kingdom

From December 9th to 11th, 2019, the AKU project hosted the Ägyptologische “Binsen”-Weisheiten IV conference at the Academy of Sciences and Literature | Mainz. The event was generously supported by the German Research Foundation as part of the funding program “Gutenberg Workshops”. We welcomed 65 participants from all over the world for lectures, discussions and new ways of studying the hieratic script of the New Kingdom with a special focus on actors, forms and functions. The book of abstracts is available on the open access platform Zotero under doi:10.5281/zenodo.3676389.

Places of origin of the participants, created with palladio

Ägyptologische “Binsen”-Weisheiten is a series of conferences that started in 2011 to establish a community of specialists who are working on ancient Egyptian cursive scripts. The proceedings of the first two meetings are already available as open access publication under urn:nbn:de:hebis:77-publ-547544. The online version of the printed third volume is planned for spring 2020.

Script and scribal hands of the 18th dynasty

The first section spanned a wide range of writing surfaces like ostraca, papyri and tomb walls (dipinti) and their connection to scribal practices. Matthias Müller presented an archive of ostraca from Deir el-Ballas that had been spread over Europe and as such had been edited and published separately. It contains lists of personal names and food and objects and with quantities.

Jar labels from meat deliveries for the second Sed festival of Amenhotep III were discussed by Niv Allon. In his ongoing project he raises the question of how handwriting can be distinguished within this well dated corpus. The material shows a great variety in orthography, degrees of cursivity and the use of ligatures.

The way we conduct digital analysis is strongly connected to the process of digitizing hieratic signs, says Svenja A. Gülden. In her lecture, she investigated how scribal hands may be influenced by aspects like writing surface, writing tool or other circumstances. A clustering of simple shaped and frequent graphemes showed no significant differences between sign form and genre or writing surface so far. However, she pointed out that many more data are needed for a reliable analysis.

Hieratic, cursive hieroglyphs and hieroglyphs

“How fuzzy are the boundaries between hieratic, cursive hieroglyphs and hieroglyphs?” was one of the key questions of the second session. A very special and archaizing type of script was shown by Aurore Motte in her lecture on the Kemyt-book. We got to know some preliminary results from her project regarding the analysis of this book, which places the texts in a didactic context. Her paleographical investigation placed the sources in a range between the Second Intermediate Period to the Ramesside Period.

Lucía Díaz-Iglesias presented inscriptions written in cursive hieroglyphs in the funerary chamber of the tomb of Djehuty (TT 11). Within these texts there is a frequent use of hieratic signs. But where to draw the border between these types of script, and when did the ancient scribe use one or the other? To solve these questions, she used digital photography in combination with photogrammetry. Explanations for the use of hieratic signs might be lack of space, rush by the scribe, doubts on correct hieroglyphic forms, and many more.

The last lecture in this section was given by Marina Sartori. In her PhD project she analyses three types of script (polychrome hieroglyphs, cursive hieroglyphs and hieratic) that are present in the tomb of Ameneminet (TT 277). One interesting detail was the placement of captions and names inside the decoration of the tomb – it appears as if the captions are perfectly included in the decoration. Therefore one has to ask if they are part of the primary decoration program and not secondary epigraphy. That leads perfectly to our next session on Graffiti (or should we better call it “secondary epigraphy”?).


Hana Navratilova opened this section asking: “Any news from Dahshur?” Yes, there was. Since there are new finds of textual and figural secondary epigraphy every year in the South temple of Senwosret III the corpus is growing. Hana Navratilova pointed out that the context of the secondary epigraphy is important especially on decorated surfaces. In order to document the shading and dipping of the signs, she uses mainly the techniques of tracing and inking (foil on the wall and hand made drawings) in addition to the digital drawing.

The second talk about Graffiti was held by Mirosłav Barwik who presented graffiti dated at the turn of the 20th to 21st dynasty from the area of the temple of Hatshepsut. The graffiti give insights to activities of the workmen and also mention their names. In some cases dates are followed by the workmen signs, a combination which ist not recorded elsewhere in the Theben necropolis. Most of the graffiti are found in the shady areas of the site except for two remarkable inscriptions. One was written by Amenemose, who wrote down the text using large sings and the second one written by a man named Ankhef is the the longest graffito of the corpus.

Discussion: What is cursive?

The last section of the day was a discussion about various aspects that had been mentioned in the lectures or the questions afterwards. One of the main topics discussed was the question of how to distinguish cursive hieroglyphs and hieratic. Since the boundaries are fuzzy we need more data to inventories and analyze the range.

The first day’s evening …

… was closed by a delicious oriental buffet. We all had the chance to enjoy a relaxing evening with – of course – hieratic as the main topic of conversation.

Formal aspects

The second day started with a paper by Masakatsu Nagai, who analyzed line breaks in literary papyri from the Middle and New Kingdoms with regard to the notational structure of the word. In a quantitive study, he showed that in most of the cases the scribe avoided a line break in the middle of a word. Instead – if necessary – the line break occurred before the suffix (Middle Egyptian) or after the stem (Late Egyptian).

Stephane Polis presented a variety of texts (“literary” and “non-literary”) produced by a scribe of the 19th dynasty, the “messy polygraph” from Deir el-Medina. He asked whether the traditional division between “literary” and “non-literary” hands really does apply. He concluded that there is no clear distinction between literary and administrative texts: the hand is the same. This corresponds to what Svenja Gülden was reporting in her paper – there is no distinctive difference between sign form and genre so far.

Ramesside literary texts

The first two speakers of the following section could not attend the conference in person due to transportation problems caused by the strike in France and therefore had to be connected via video transmission. First, Annie Gasse highlighted the importance of a new catalogue of unedited ostraca above average size in format from the inventory of the IFAO. A second group of ostraca from the collection of the IFAO was selected by Florence Albert on the basis of keywords and material aspects. In the future, they plan to publish their inventories based on materiality (wooden tablets) or text genre (literary).

Can we use palaeographies to date not only literary, but also non-literary ostraca? Usually we use Möller, but let’s try Wimmer. This experiment was presented by Andreas Dorn in which he showed that it is not easy to cross-use Wimmer’s palaeography. Some signs are relevant and suited to be used for dating, but it is not possible to do it quickly, focusing on some sign forms that date a literary text. We need all indiciations in the text and the grammar, a multiple approach to be certain on how a text can be dated. Yet it is useful to use both Wimmer and Möller in a complementary way.

Administrative texts of the 19th and 20th dynasties

The presentation by Kyra van der Moezel focused on texts that belong to the so-called “necropolis journal”. Rather than to adopt this term, which refers to a very eclectic group of texts, the sources were analyzed for their topics and layouts. Main questions were: with which categories of text are we dealing, and do these show specific characteristics of style and layout? Types of layout were distinguished on the basis of a horizontal or vertical setup, the presence of a date and the manner in which keywords or dates were treated within a text.

Kathrin Gabler, Stéphane Polis, Susanne Töpfer and Stephan Unter from the project Crossing Boundaries presented traditional methods for combining papyrus fragments. Due to the great number of unknown fragments (9000), machine learning methods for rejoining papyri are being developed by the project. On this basis, handwriting and maybe single scribes can be clustered. They also gave us a first introduction to the Turin Papyrus Online Platform (TPOP).

Discussion: How to describe handwriting?

Among others, the discussion explored the unique nature of the term handwriting and the problem of describing it in an objective way. One solution was mentioned by Stéphane Polis who pointed to the three level hierarchy of describing script within the field of graphetics.

Social Events: A Family Trip

For many participants the “Binsen IV” conference was like a family meeting. Therefore, we enjoyed several social events in the afternoon of the second conference day. We started with a visit to the wonderful exhibition Asyut’s 14 that gave insights into 14 years of fieldwork by “The Asyut Project”.

Afterwards, we visited the festive Christmas market in with its beautiful lights in front of Mainz cathedral. The day was closed with a Christmas dinner and vivid conversations.

Digital tools and aspects

The last section of our conference focused on the topic of digital approaches in Egyptology.

Halely Harel and Orly Goldwasser showed us preliminary results from their new project iClassifier, where classifiers in hieratic (and hieroglyphic) script are analyzed with digital methods. One of the aims is to use network analysis of classifiers that appear together and their corresponding words.

A new approach to learn (and teach) abnormal hieratic was presented by Koen Donker van Heel and Elena Hertel. The Abnormal Hieratic Global Portal is an e-learning environment for the study of abnormal hieratic. The images of the sources are stored on an IIIF image server and can be accessed with the Mirador IIIF Viewer, in which the transcription and translation of the text are linked as annotations.

Masakatsu Nagai and his team created a digital version of Georg Möller’s Hieratische Paläographie that is also based on the IIIF specifications. It is possible to search by Gardiner number, Möller number or phonetic value and allows you to view specific rows of the printed version of Möller’s volumes.

Simone Gerhards and Tobias Konrad presented the actual research environment that is used within the AKU project. Besides an IIIF-ecosystem (Cantaloupe Image Server and Mirador IIIF Viewer) the VIKUS Viewer is tested within the project. It consists of an interface to the software framework TensorFlow which allows the project an easy use of an artificial neural network to analyze various hieratic signs based on their visual similarity. Also, it allows to develop new approaches towards digital paleography of ancient Egyptian hieratic and cursive scripts.

Inspiring and stimulating was the walk-around session, during which the attendees had the possibility to try the digital tools that are used in various projects.

We had great days with 19 presentations, stimulating talks and meetings with old and new friends. We look forward to seeing you all soon at the next Binsen conference and in the meantime are exited about publishing the conference proceedings.

Co-Autoren: Svenja A. Gülden, Tobias Konrad, Kyra van der Moezel

Diesen Artikel zitieren:
Simone Gerhards, Ägyptologische „Binsen“-Weisheiten IV: Hieratic of the New Kingdom, in: Hieratisch AKUell, 16.03.2020, https://aku.hypotheses.org/1903, Zugriff: 21.09.2023.

Simone Gerhards

Dr. Simone Gerhards ist wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin im Arbeitsbereich Ägyptologie an der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität. Sie arbeitet als Fachstudienberaterin, Lernarchitekturagentin des Projekts „Ancient Sciences Innovation Lab“ und ist assoziiertes Mitglied des Projekts „Altägyptische Kursivschriften“.

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Simone Gerhards

Dr. Simone Gerhards ist wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin im Arbeitsbereich Ägyptologie an der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität. Sie arbeitet als Fachstudienberaterin, Lernarchitekturagentin des Projekts „Ancient Sciences Innovation Lab“ und ist assoziiertes Mitglied des Projekts „Altägyptische Kursivschriften“.

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