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From Oral Practice to Written Record in Ramesside Deir el-Medina

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image of Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

The thousands of hieratic ostraca and papyri from the Ramesside settlement of necropolis workmen at Deir el-Medina include many texts about private business and legal matters. The majority of standard formulas in these records did not develop before the first half of the 20th dynasty, whereas most of the formulas current in administrative texts of the necropolis already existed in the 19th dynasty. The later increase in and formalization of private and legal texts suggest that writing became only gradually popular in village life. Studies of similar processes in anthropological and historical literature help to explain this development in an exceptionally literate village community.

Parmi les milliers des ostraca et des papyrus hiératiques du village des ouvriers de la nécropole de Deir el-Medina, de l'époque ramesside, on trouve un grand nombre de textes relatifs aux affaires privées et juridiques. La plupart de ces textes comprennent des formules standardisées datant de la première moitié de la 20ième dynastie, tandis que la majorité des formules habituelles dans les textes administratifs de la nécropole existaient déjà plus tôt. L'accroissement et la formalisation tardifs des textes privés et juridiques suggère que l'écriture ne se répandait que lentement dans le village. Les études de procès similaires dans la littérature anthropologique et historique nous aident à expliquer ce dévéloppement dans une communauté exceptionellement lettrée.


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