Ancient Egyptian Children Wrote Lines As Punishment Like Bart Simpson

Archeologists have discovered over 18,000 broken pieces of ceramics called "ostraca" that served as writing materials in ancient Egypt.

The inscriptions on the shreds include lists of names, representations of gods, and receipts for food purchases. Among these were hundreds of examples of lines written in a school by pupils receiving Bart Simpson-like punishments, the team believes.

The sherds were recovered from Tell Atrib, a region that was once ancient Athribis, during excavations led by Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies (IANES) at Germany's University of Tübingen Professor Christian Leitz. This is one of the largest finds of such items.

Leitz told Newsweek: "The size of this find was remarkable. With the exception of Deir el-Medineh [an important archeological site located near the Valley of the Kings in Luxor], there has been no find of this size in Egypt."

Around 2,000 years ago, the time period the items discovered by Leitz and his crew with the aid of Mohamed Abdelbadia and his team from the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, ostraca were used in large quantities as writing material, inscribed with ink and a reed or hollow stick.

The recently recovered ostraca could provide a unique insight into the everyday lives of the people of the ancient settlement of Athribis, around 120 miles north of Luxor.

Leitz explains: "We will be able to make a case study of daily life in late Ptolemaic/early Roman time, once we have analyzed all the texts or at least a larger part of it, which will take years."

The majority of the potsherds recovered by the team are inscribed in Demotic, a type of script developed around 600 B.C after the Hieratic style. The second most common language found by team was Greek, with other inscriptions in Hieratic, hieroglyphic, Coptic, and Arabic script.

The team also found a special type of ostraca including figurative representations of animals like scorpions and swallows, as well as humans, gods from the nearby temple, and even geometric figures.

In addition to lists of names and foods, what came as a surprise to the Egyptologists was how many of these ostraca seemed to be work produced by an ancient school.

The team said in a press release: "There are lists of months, numbers, arithmetic problems, grammar exercises, and a 'bird alphabet'—each letter was assigned a bird whose name began with that letter."

The researchers also believe that they have even found ancient writing exercises with the same characters repeated front and back, which they believe functioned as a punishment for students.

One piece of information revealed by the sherds that Leitz told Newsweek was that it seems the nearby temple built by Ptolemy XII, the father of the famous Cleopatra VII, was used as part of the school.

Tübingen University Egyptologists have been working in Athribis since 2003, and in 2005 the investigation, which has now concluded, became part of a 15-year research project funded by the German Research Foundation.

The sanctuary was built around 2,000 years ago for Repit, the lion goddess, and her husband Min-Re. After pagan cults were banned in 380 A.D. it was converted to a nunnery.

Excavations at another sanctuary west of the temple that began in spring 2018 are still underway. The rubble around his site has also yielded the recovery of numerous ostraca for the team, with Egyptologists uncovering multi-story buildings, staircases, and vaults.

The ostraca are currently being analyzed by an international team led by Sandra Lippert, head of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Sandra Lippert while the University of Tübingen researcher Carolina Teotino examines the pictorial ostraca.

Ancient Egyptian Ceramic Sherds
Some of the sherds recovered by Egyptologists show writings of ancient Egypt. (Left) a pictographic representation of a baboon and an ibis, the two sacred animals of Thoth, the god of wisdom. (Middle) Naughty pupils had to write lines - hundreds of these tablets were found, with the same symbol usually written on both front and back. (Right) A fragment of a school text with a bird alphabet in Hieratic. On the right, the name of the bird, and on the left, the numbers from 5 to 8. Athribis project./University of Tübingen