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Work Inventory and accounts from a temple of Abusir

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Objects from everyday life

Inventory and accounts from a temple of Abusir

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Georges Poncet

Egyptian Antiquities
Objects from everyday life

Author(s):
Letellier Bernadette, de Cenival Jean-Louis

These archives, discovered in the 19th century in Abusir, are among the oldest known hieratic papyri. Employee tasks, inventories, and especially accounts were noted daily or monthly on records. One of these two fragments provides a detailed inventory of cult vases; the other, a monthly summary of deliveries of goods.

Bureaucratic paperwork as early as the Old Kindgom

Religious texts, legendary stories, and tales from ancient Egypt have always exerted a certain fascination. And yet the oldest currently known papyri come from a batch of archives; they form the best-known example of Egyptian administrative paperwork. Several elements suggest that the bureaucratic enthusiasm of the Egyptians appeared in the First Dynasty. But the first actual example of this paper-pushing fever dates from the Fifth Dynasty: these two fragments of archive documents from the funerary temple of King Neferirkare (who died around 2460 BC). No modern country or company today could accumulate such a mass of paperwork.

An inventory list

Temple staff periodically undertook meticulous inventories of the material and property of shrines for which they were responsible. The information gathered was noted in cross-ruled tables. Two different inks, black and white, were used to separate different notations. Each column was used to describe the condition of a certain object. During subsequent inspections, these objects were noted as "present," and any modifications to their physical conditions were noted.
The headings across the top are written in large, clear signs. These titles, which run across the columns, indicate the material (quartz, galena, incense), the type of object (vase, bowl, chest), and technical specifications (silver-plating). The observations are astonishing detailed. A vase, for example, is described in these words: "empty, leaks, many repairs, numerous chips..."
This precision borders on mania: an entire column was used to indicate the presence of a ball of incense!

Accounting records

The sheet is part of a monthly summary scroll, drawn up from partial records. The title written horizontally across the top reads: "Offerings made from the solar temple of King Neferirkare to his funerary temple."
The solar temple, located a few kilometers away, was the economic center. It sent goods from various agricultural centers or services to the funerary temple; these were all noted in vertical headings in this table. Three columns were devoted to each product: the expected quantities to be delivered, the actual amount delivered, and the remainder due. The numbers are recorded in the 30 lines for the 3à days of the months, separated by red lines into three ten-day periods. Hence, we see that on the third day of the month, the palace was supposed to supply a batch of 15 cakes, 2 breads, and 1 jug of beer, but did not do so. The delivery did, however, arrive the following day. The names of the delivery people were even noted at the bottom of the page.

Bibliography

Posener-Kriéger (P.) et de Cenival (J.L), Hiératic Papyri in the British Museum. Fifth senies. The Abou Sir Papyri, London, 1968, pL XXII-XXII A.
Posener-Kriéger (P.), Les archives du temple funéraire de Neferirkarê-Kakaï (les papyrus dAbousir). Traduction et commentaire 1 (BdE LXV) p. 136-137, fig. 4

Technical description

  • Inventory and accounts from a temple of Abusir

    Old Kingdom, reign of Djedkare-Isesi (c. 2400 BC)

    Abusir, Temple de Neferirkare-Kakai

  • Inventory from a temple of Abusir: PapyrusAccounts from a temple of Abusir: Black and red inke

    Inventory from a temple of Abusir: L.: 21 cm; W.: 14.7 cm.Accounts from a temple of Abusir: L.: 64.5 cm; W.: 19.2 cm.

  • Gift from the Sorbonne Library, 1952 and 1956

    E 25280

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Writing and scribes
    Room 6

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