Ancient Egyptian tablet is an "attendance sheet" listing excuses for missing work

Originally published at: Ancient Egyptian tablet is an "attendance sheet" listing excuses for missing work | Boing Boing


This reminds me of the weird causes of death listed in Bills of Mortality.


Since they couldn’t use this one,

They’ll have to use this one
Naptet had to go the eye doctor. He just couldn’t see going to work today.


It’s often forgotten that Ancient Egypt produced almost no literature and almost all the inscriptions are either religious invocations or the same dreary interchangeable litanies of pharaoh’s everlasting glory and triumph over enemies of the State. There is almost nothing preserved from the vast majority of people who lived and died there.

Deir el Medina is a fascinating little snapshot into the New Kingdom. It was a planned settlement for the craftsmen working in the royal necropolis of Thebes and all of its rubbish was dumped into an enormous pit on the outskirts of the town. That has been a source of an almost endless supply of little notes, records and draft materials - almost all of which refer to everyday people rather than the royal family.

There are tens of thousands of ‘ostraca’ pot sheards and flakes of limestone that were used as disposable writing surfaces in the records from the town, many naming individuals and what they got up to - missing work for a funeral, asking permission to use some tools, apologising for not turning up because of a hangover, recipes for medicine, sketches, cartoons, poems - almost everything.

Deir el Medina is easily reached from Luxor with a guide and well worth a visit as some of the homes and tombs of the workers have been restored. If you can’t visit Egypt, most of the big European and American museums with Egyptian collections will have plentiful ostraca from the site. The British Museum (inevitably) and UCL’s Petrie Museum have outstanding collections.

If you are interested in knowing more about these people, I can’t help but recommend John Romer’s beautifully-written ‘Ancient Lives’ which not only dives deep into some of the families working there in the New Kingdom, but brings them to life as real people.


‘Kings evil’ is what was later became known as scrofula - a form of tuberculosis that causes painful swelling of the lymph glands. Apparently, medieval Brits thought it could be cured by the touch of a member of the royal family and ceremonies to cure the sick were performed as late as the early 18th Century.

But I’ve always wondered what ‘rising of the lights’ means.

27 people killed by their teeth and one unfortunate by ‘winde’ - what a strange world…


Finally, proof that aliens didn’t build it!!


The description of that image…
Just leaving this here:


We need to bring some of these back. 3-4 days off every month for when a pre-menopausal woman in the house hits their time? Hell yeah!

And a couple more days after to homebrew?! YASSSS!


I looked this up recently; “lights” means “lungs” here. Some issue about getting congested as if coughing one’s lungs out. Not recommended.


I am willing to revive the worship of Hathor. Cheers!


I don’t think it’s much of a danger here in the northern Illinois / southern Wisconsin area, but if I was to be bitten by a scorpion, I most certainly would not be showing up at work!


A minor mystery solved - thank-you!


This is true for virtually every country and civilization up through the 20th century, tbh.


Wait, so that cheerful piece of British thuggery, “I’m going to punch your lights out,” means lungs, not eyes?



Millions of thin metal and plastic tablets, roughly hand-sized, some stamped with an icon of fruit.

“Common totem, perhaps some minor ritual significance.”

Harsh but fair, future archaeologist.


Motel of the Mysteries, anyone?


I’ve heard that plenty in the US, is it that old a phrase?


Similar phrasing goes back as far as Shakespeare’s Othello with the article dealing first with the “vital spark” of life, but later details “lights” in reference to internal organs.


The more you learn… also, I might have been conflating “knock your lights out” with punch, colpa mia.


Good point.

What makes Egypt unusual is that unlike many civilisations there are colossal amounts of text out there that they wrote and we can read - but almost none of it is truly creative. It is the same material repeated time and time again, only the name changes.

Even when talking about named individuals at the top of the pile. we actually know vanishingly little about them as individuals - even when they - like the various Ramesses - covered literally acres of stone with their writing. It’s just an endless list of identikit boasts and prayers echoing down the centuries.

Even when pharaohs do let a little individualism to slip in, such as Ramesses II and the Battle of Kadesh; or Akhenaten’s nasty little Aten cult; we know the Egyptian written record is more fantasy than fiction.Throw in the repeated rewriting of inconvenient histories and the completely imagined backstories justifying their reigns, and there’s so little to actually go on.

Which is one of the big attractions!