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The volume “Non-textual marking systems in Ancient Egypt (and Elsewhere)” is the outcome of a research linkage between Humboldt University Berlin and Warsaw University, funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. It aims to summarize the present state-of-the-art about non-textual marking systems in Pharaonic Egypt and to clear the way for a possible future analysis of the subject on a broader, cross-cultural level.
The focus is on Ancient Egyptian examples, but non-textual marking systems like pot marks, mason’s marks, brick marks and other identity marks are known from many cultures and periods from Prehistoric to modern times. The broad variability of use and function of these marking systems which occur irrespectively of whether or not the particular community has a script is illustrated by case studies and by a close comparison of material originating from different time periods and from various places in Egypt and elsewhere.


Methods & Semiotic

Petra Andrássy, Julia Budka & Frank Kammerzell,
Non-Textual Marking Systems in Ancient Egypt (and Elsewhere): An introduction
Kyra van der Moezel,
Signification in Ancient Egyptian Builders’ Marks
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In the lecture at the conference ‘Pot marks and other non-textual marking systems from prehistory to present times’ (December 7−9, 2012, Humboldt-Universität Berlin) the author focused on semiotics and the role of the paradigmatic and syntagmatic dimensions in the generation of meaning through marks. Builders’ marks from the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms were commented upon in the light of existing theories. The present paper is a written version of the lecture in which, first, the theory will be explained to serve as a frame of reference in which, second, builders’ marks from the Old to New Kingdoms will be accommodated with the aim of explaining how their meaning came about. Both the theory and the discussion represent work in progress on how the worldview and mentality of the ancient Egyptians is expressed through their marking behavior.
Adam Łukaszewicz,
Arithmoi and Semeia
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The difference between the textual and non-textual signs is not always clear. Some signs can change character from textual to non-textual.
In this paper some signs used in Graeco-Roman Egypt are discussed. Letters being numeric symbols were often in use as magical signs. Numeric equivalents of words and proper names were in current usage. The writer mentions, among other examples, the famous “number of the Beast” known from the Apocalypse of John. Also this number can be explained in terms of the popular Greek gematria of the Roman Period.
Some other examples mentioned in this paper are taken from inscriptions of the Roman Period found at Kom el-Dikka in Alexandria. Non-textual signs can be found in literary texts and in documentary papyri, in inscriptions, ostraca and graffiti from Roman Egypt. One of the items under discussion was found by the author of the paper on a stone block from the early Christian basilica in the temple precinct at Dendera. It is an oval frame encompassing a proper name, roughly imitating a pharaonic cartouche.

Architecture & Builders’ Marks

Kamil O. Kuraszkiewicz,
Non-textual Marking on a Construction Site
Kamil O. Kuraszkiewicz,
Marks on the Faience Tiles from the “Blue Chambers” of Netjerykhet’s Funerary Complex
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Two sets of rooms hewn in the bedrock under the Step Pyramid complex were decorated with blue faience tiles, a significant number of which has been found detached from the walls (also outside the complex). Among the detached tiles, numerous are marked on the reverse side. The purpose and meaning of the markings, which were invisible in the final form of the decoration, is discussed in the present paper.
Dawid F. Wieczorek,
Building Dipinti in the Hatshepsut and Thutmose III Temples at Deir el-Bahari: Summarising four seasons of work (2006, 2008, 2009, 2011)
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This paper deals with two corpora of building dipinti on limestone and sandstone blocks examined at Deir el-Bahari in the two Thutmoside temples of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III. Two groups of dipinti are strictly connected with the construction process of these temples. The two groups of building dipinti presented here are the result of four seasons of work on the site. Taken together, the epigraphic material recorded so far seems to constitute a cohesive repertoire of Thutmoside building dipinti.
Myriam Seco Álvarez & Agustín Gamarra Campuzano,
Thutmosis III Temple of Millions of Years and the Mud Brick Marks: Conservation and first conclusions
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This article characterizes the preliminary results of the investigations and restorations of the large amount of mud bricks that are used in various structures at the temple of Millions of Years of Thutmosis III. The architectural use of mud bricks is clear in many parts of the temple such as: the pylon, the enclosure walls, the adjacent buildings to the interior and exterior of the enclosure walls, as well as the ramps and some floors. This article shows the different techniques used in construction, and how our interventions mainly consisted of protection to display the structures in the future. Due to the good state of preservation of the mud bricks on the site, we discovered a large amount of mud bricks marks, which we present as well in our study.
Athena Van der Perre,
Quarry Marks of the Amarna Period: The limestone quarries of Dayr Abū Hinnis
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The Dayr al-Barshā Project (KU Leuven, Belgium) revealed that the quarry area of Amarna is noticeably larger than was expected. One of the largest quarry sites of the Amarna period is located at Dayr Abū Ḥinnis, c. 15km north of Amarna. The main exploitation phase can be dated in the Amarna Period, while quarrying continued on a smaller scale in the Ramesside Period, Late Period and Roman/Early Christian period. The most remarkable item of these quarries, apart from their size and number, is the large collection of markings and inscriptions on the ceilings. The majority of the inscriptions is connected to the quarrying process. However, marking the work progress on the ceiling of an exploited quarry seems to be restricted to the Amarna Period, with a revival in the Late Period. Among the inscriptions, a number of quarry marks can be found. The quarry marks resemble the known mason’s marks a nd pot marks of the Amarna Period, but in t he q uarries, they a re often combined with painted ochre lines and (hieratic) dates, confirming a close connection with the work progress.
Maria Nilsson,
Non-textual Marking Systems at Gebel el-Silsila: From dynastic signifiers of identity to symbols of adoration
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In Gebel el-Silsila the quarry faces are cluttered with literally thousands of pictographic and textual representations; together they provide us with a window of information to the ancients’ activity in the area, a prosopography of its workers and an idea of the ancients’ contemporary ideology. The more complex category of illustrations is quarry marks, a form of graffiti that appears in abundance with some 5000 examples, dating from the Eighteenth Dynasty to the early Roman Period. Engraved into the surface, the marks are all executed technically in the same way, carefully carved with a metal chisel. They are located as singulars or in linear series in all the cardinal directions and all over the full heights of the quarry faces, measuring between c. 10cm up to sometimes 1.5m in height. Their designs are individually comparable with contemporary script systems, concrete objects, abstract geometrical patterns, and so forth, and as such they fall into the category of non-textual marking systems. They are often considered as signifiers of identity, with the referent assumed to be an owner, contractor, a single workman or a group. Other practical considerations of use include marks for transportation, positioning, height and depth, et cetera, but the aim is here to explore also alternative meanings and discuss a possible chronological progression from marks that originally signified work or workmen to more complex religious expressions. Terminological options will be considered too. As a work still in progress, this paper is a summary of results achieved thus far.

Deir el-Medina

Eva-Maria Engel,
Non-textual Marking Systems: The Case of Deir el-Medina
Daniel Soliman,
Workmen’s Marks in Pre-Amarna Tombs at Deir el-Medina
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Numerous workmen’s marks known from ostraca found at the village of Deir el-Medina as well as in the Valley of the Kings are also attested on objects from the tombs around the Deir el-Medina settlement. This paper presents some preliminary results of the research project ‘Symbolizing Identity: identity marks and their relation to writing in New Kingdom Egypt’ at Leiden University, and considers the significance of the marks in pre-Amarna tombs. For the majority of these tombs, the owners are still unidentified. The presence of workmen’s marks proves that the anonymous tomb owners were in contact with the individuals working on the royal tomb, and perhaps even belonged to that group. Noteworthy is the fact that very few pre-Amarna tombs around Deir el-Medina contained inscribed material, and that the forthcoming inscriptions are often incorrectly or oddly written. The combined occurrence of marks and erroneously written inscriptions could indicate that the tomb owners were only limitedly literate.
Ben J. J. Haring,
Between Administrative Writing and Work Practice: Marks ostraca and the roster of day duties of the royal necropolis workmen in the New Kingdom
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Among the New Kingdom ostraca from the royal necropolis at Thebes, there are many inscribed with non-textual marks representing individual necropolis workmen. Such ostraca inform us about the organization of work and supplies, a type of information otherwise found in written (i.e. hieratic) records of the necropolis scribes. Hieratic necropolis texts being absent for some periods in the New Kingdom, it is the ostraca with marks that help us to fill the lacunae left by the surviving written documentation. These ostraca also seem to be closer to the workmen’s daily reality than the hieratic texts, as can be inferred from their style, which betrays hands without scribal training, and from their references to the roster of day duties, which are much more consistent than those made by the hieratic scribes.
Andreas Dorn,
Für jeden Arbeiter aus Deir el-Medine ein Namenszeichen?
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In workmen’s huts in the Valley of the Kings, which can be dated to the mid Twentieth Dynasty, a large group of objects inscribed with name signs (workmen’s marks) was found. Due to those objects – ostraca, jar lids out of limestone, pottery, and some others – different use of the signs in a work context can be identified. On the one hand an administrative one is attested by lists with signs and on the other hand a private one by the practice to mark property with such signs. The high number of attested signs (over 100) leads to the conclusion that every workman owned such a sign. By contrasting the observed use of the signs in the given context with others, especially signatures of apprentice scribes under copies of literary texts, it becomes obvious that the signs as a short form of the name were not considered for all kind of applications as name substitutes.
Sławomir Rzepka,
“Funny signs” Graffiti vs. Textual Graffiti Contemporary or not?
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A system of personal marks (“funny signs”) was in use in the community of workers of the Theban royal necropolis since the Eighteenth Dynasty till at least the Twentieth Dynasty (most probably till the Twenty-first Dynasty). Beside ostraca and objects of daily use, “funny signs” occur in more that 600 graffiti scratched on the rocks of the Theban gebel. An attempt to date this corpus by comparing the distribution of “funny signs” rock graffiti with the distribution of datable inscriptional rock graffiti is presented below.

Pot Marks

Julia Budka & Eva-Maria Engel,
Pot Marks from Ancient Egypt: The multiple function of marking ceramic vessels
Gaëlle Bréand,
Pot Marks on Bread Moulds in Settlement Context during Naqada III Period: A comparative view from Adaïma (Upper Egypt) and Tell el-Iswid South (Lower Egypt)
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Since their appearance at the end of the Naqada II Period, bread moulds were one of the most common pottery types recorded in Egypt from North to South. Functionally meant for the production of bread, some of them carried signs incised prior to their firing. Within the course of the development of the pottery production since Naqada II, the huge increase in the production of bread moulds during the Naqada III Period may be linked to a change in production level, from a domestic to a specialized one. In the same way, the use of pre-firing signs could also indicate a change in the organisation of the manufactured supplies.
In light of the renewed interest in Predynastic and Early Dynastic pot marks expressed nowadays by many scholars, associated with the benefit of recent discoveries of new corpora from settlement contexts, it is now possible to consider the available data from an inter-regional point of view, particularly concerning the purposes and the function of this kind of non-textual marking system on such a pottery type. Thus, comparisons were made between the marked bread moulds from the contemporaneous settlements of Adaïma (Upper Egypt) and Tell el-Iswid South (Lower Egypt) in order to discuss the social and economic implications of the use of pot marks at the dawn of the emergence of the ancient Egyptian state and within the course of the formation of the hieroglyphic writing system.
Eva-Maria Engel,
The Early Dynastic Pot Mark Project
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The Early Dynastic Pot Mark Project examines about 8000 published and unpublished marks on various types of Early Dynastic pottery from different sites in Egypt. The project is not the first of its kind, but earlier ones on the same material by Helck (1990) and van den Brink (1992) had – with about 3.000 – a smaller number of marks available and less access to originals.
Although the first samples of these marks were discovered already at the end of the Nineteenth Century and many different interpretations on the marks’ function have been offered, so far none has been generally accepted. The project’s first aim is, therefore, to collect as much information as possible on the different samples in a database to identify parameters that might help to interpret the marks.
Rita Hartmann,
Ein Corpus von Ritzmarken auf Weinkrügen aus dem Grab des Ninetjer in Saqqara
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From 2002 to 2009 the German Archaeological Institute Cairo has undertaken a re-investigation of the early Second Dynasty royal tomb of king Ninetjer at Saqqara. The subterranean corridor-tomb extends over a large area and is divided into more than 170 rooms. Originally, the entrance of the tomb consisted of a rock-cut ramp situated in the north, in the Fifth Dynasty the area was overbuild with the Mastaba of Neb-kau-Hor. Whilst the southern part of the tomb was found heavily disturbed by funerary activities of the later Pharaonic time, in 2008 a large subterranean system of galleries extending west and east of the rock-cut ramp was discovered which surprisingly yielded numerous remains of the original tomb equipment of Ninetjer. Among other finds like stone vessel fragments, jar stoppers and wooden objects, more than 500 pottery vessels came to light. The so called “wine jars” make up the largest part of the ceramic assemblage. Importantly, several wine jars were still sealed with taffl-stoppers bearing the name of Ninetjer. In 2012 a group of 38 intact wine jars originating from rooms A300 and A500, now stored in the SCA magazine at Saqqara, could be studied. It appeared that most of the vessels were provided with pot marks usually incised into the wet clay between the rim and the decorative band applied around the shoulder. The marks, classified into eleven type groups, consist chiefly of simple geometrical signs, arrangements of vertical strokes or combinations of curvilinear lines and short strokes or dots. This small corpus of pot marks which is restricted to one functional group of carriers, gave the opportunity to investigate the coherence of the marks and the other characteristic features of the vessels like fabric, contour of the body and capacity, within a context connected to a special pottery production adjusted to royal funerary requirements.
Petra Andrássy,
Pot Marks in Textual Evidence?
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The research on pot marks is usually based exclusively on archaeological evidence. There are, however, also some interesting written sources which may shed light on the use and meaning of pot marks. The material in question is a small pottery account belonging to the Old Kingdom Gebelein papyri, and embedded in other administrative notes from the sphere of food processing. The account shows an interesting feature, namely a separate mr-sign between the headline and the list of various kinds of pottery vessels. After an analysis it is argued that this mr-sign may represent a pre-firing pot mark and that such marks are revision marks, i.e. remnants of quality and quantity checks left by the supervising staff of the pottery- or food-workshop on, at least, one pot of a row of drying pottery.
Teodozja I. Rzeuska,
Noughts and Crosses Pot marks on the late Old Kingdom beer jars from West Saqqara
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A late Old Kingdom necropolis situated to the west of Netjerykhet’s funerary complex at West Saqqara has yielded large amount of vessels referred to in ceramological jargon as “beer jars.” They demonstrate a range of shapes, sizes and surface treatment methods. Until 2013, 87 pot marks were identified on the beer jars, making it the largest such group up to date. Eight distinct types of pot marks representing simple geometric figures have been distinguished, all without exception have been made prior to firing in a pottery workshop. Analysis of such a large assemblage added some insight into the meaning and the purpose of the marks.
Julia Budka,
Marks on Egyptian Festival Pottery: The use of pot marks in the context of Osirian rituals at Umm el-Qaab, Abydos
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To interpret specific sets of pot marks, one relies on the context of the pottery vessels: the find spot, dating, shape and ware of the specific vessels. A specialised and site-specific use of pot marks seems to be attested in Pharaonic Egypt for the New Kingdom within the frameworks of festivals (see Hope 1999). This paper presents exemplarily pot marks on New Kingdom vessels functioning as votive gifts and connected with festivals and rituals embedded in the cult of Osiris at Umm el-Qaab, Abydos. It aims to illustrate possible reasons why similar and even identical marks appear both on painted festival vessels (Budka 2008; Budka 2013) and votive pots of a type that is commonly found in settlement contexts. As work is still ongoing, only a selection of pot marks from Umm el-Qaab will be discussed.
Julia Budka,
Pot Marks on New Kingdom Amphorae from the Oases: The case of Umm el-Qaab
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A substantial amount of ceramic vessels originating from the oases have been excavated during recent fieldwork by the German Archaeological Institute Cairo at Umm el-Qaab, Abydos. Most likely products from Dakhleh Oasis, a large number of New Kingdom amphorae shows pre-fired marks. This corpus of pot marks is presented and possible functional aspects are summarized.
Gábor Schreiber,
Late Dynastic and Ptolemaic Pot Marks from the Thebaid
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The study gives an overview and analysis of the pot marks reported from Theban contexts dating to between the Saite and Ptolemaic Periods. Although the marks known up to now appear in a number of permutations, it seems that no more than half a dozen general types can be distinguished. The marks, usually incised with a pointed instrument, were applied onto the vessels post-firing. Remarkably, all the vessels which bear this treatment have been retrieved from the cemeteries of Thebes and no comparable examples are known from urban and temple contexts at Thebes. The marks tend to appear on medium to large-sized closed shapes (bottles and jars) decorated in the so-called “Lotus-flower and crosslined-band” style. The examination of the archaeological contexts reveals that these vessels were most frequently dug in the forecourts, a fact perhaps signifying that they played a certain role, difficult to specify, at the funeral and in the funerary cult. Considering the formal characteristics and context of the marks as well as their analogues from other sites in Egypt, the study argues that the pot marks of the Ptolemaic vessels known from the Theban cemetery are not property or workshop marks but were to denote the specific function or content of the vessels they appeared on.