In the year 40 of the reign of Ramses II, in Egypt, the absences of workers and the reasons for them were already recorded. Some were very common at the time, but sound so strange today, such as “embalming a brother” or “brewing beer”.

This is recorded on an ostracon (block of stone for writing, in this case limestone) from 1250 B.C., found at Deir el-Medina (Thebes), in northern Egypt, and now in the British Museum in London, which served as a record of attendance at work.

The stone has 24 lines written on each side, in hieratic script, covering 70 days. The names of the workers are written there, along with the date, indicating the reason for the absence from work: “making offerings to the gods”, “he was stung by a scorpion”, “his daughter was bleeding”, “building his house”, “making a libation to his father” (an offering that consisted of pouring wine or other liquids on the ground).

Although some of the motifs may be as anachronistic as these, however, most of those noted are more normal, classified as “sickness” (about a hundred times) or “he is with his boss.”

These types of media were often used to annotate receipts, records or other types of documents, as they were cheaper than papyrus. They are usually written in hieratic or demotic, and sometimes in cursive.

British Museum ostrachon workers


  1. The British Museum is the Museum of Theft.
    I call it that because most of its antiquities have been stolen from their countries of origin. As England was a colonial power, they took everything they could.
    The best example is the sculptures of the Parthenon long claimed by Greece. Just to see this marvel you have to see this museum, the statues of Phidias will take your breath away.
    With Egypt the same thing happens although luckily the best is still in your country.
    The museum, in any case, must be seen; the problem is that one day is not enough, and thus a binge is avoided.

    • The British Museum is one of the greatest exponents of cultural plundering, bringing together figures from the mausoleum of Helicarnassus, marbles of Artemis of Ephesus, a statue of the Cariatides and, on the Egyptian side, numerous sarcophagi such as that of Nectanebo II, very valuable papyri or gigantic statues such as that of Ramses II.

      The Greek government has launched numerous campaigns to bring the entire Parthenon under one roof instead of having it scattered around the world. Other initiatives, such as Bring Them Back, have so far pursued the same goal in vain. The latter with videos ironizing one of the arguments most often put forward by the defenders of cultural spoliation: the protection of relics.

      And what do the English think about this? The majority opinion is that the relics should be returned to their country of origin, as in fact Sweden, the University of Heidelberg (Germany), the Vatican or the Getty Museum (USA) have already returned them. Two surveys support this information, one from 1998 and the other from 2002, in which 40% of those surveyed were in favor of the return, while only 15% and 16%, respectively, were in favor of continuing to appropriate these cultural goods.


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