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Friday, October 16, 2009

Herbert Verreth, The provenance of Egyptian documents from the 8th century BC till the 8th century AD (Trismegistos Project)

The Introduction begins:
For every historical document two questions can be asked about its localisation: where has it been found, and where has it been written (or made)? For letters one can expand with the question where the letter has been sent to. These questions are not always easy to answer, since for most documents information about the archaeological context is lacking, while the contents of the document itself does not always allow a precise localisation. Unfortunately not all publishers of ancient documents paid much attention to these geographical issues and often - especially in older publications - the reader is left to his own devices about the origin of the document. Moreover, even if a place of origin is mentioned, it is not always clear whether that is the place where the document was found or written, or both, and why this suggestion has been made. The number of publications where Found, Written and Destination are explicitly distinguished and commented upon, is disappointingly small.

The database Trismegistos now contains more than 110.000 documents, which are usually in some way linked to Egypt and can be dated between the 8th century BC and the 8th century AD. Since the Leuven Database of Ancient Books (LDAB) has been incorporated in the database, a number of texts also comes from outside of Egypt. The texts in Trismegistos are written in no less than 36 different ancient languages on all kinds of material. Since the database was mainly developed to study multilingualism and multiculturalism in Egypt, a geographical section has been created from the very start in order to look for regional differences throughout Egypt. For every document the information where it was found and written, was included, while already some work has been done in the category Destination. For these purposes, a separate file 'Geotex' has been created, distinct from the file 'Georef', which lists toponyms mentioned in the text of the document itself, although bothfiles are intimately related. All this information is available online, but since the internet-interface does not always allow to ask some of the more complicated questions which are possible in the original Filemaker Pro database, we here offer a survey of these geographical metadata in a separate publication, where scholars can find some statistical information for the geographical questions they might have in mind. The number of tables could easily have been multiplied, but I believe that for the moment the most basic information is made readily accessible.