Ancient Egyptian Scribes and Modern-Day White Collars May Have Much in Common, Study Shows

© Sputnik . Pavel LvovTourists at the Karnak Temple - the largest temple complex of Ancient Egypt in Luxor
Tourists at the Karnak Temple - the largest temple complex of Ancient Egypt in Luxor - Sputnik Africa, 1920, 28.06.2024
Advances in the study of ancient people using a variety of new technologies are helping modern society learn much more about its ancestors. The physical toll of office work is nothing new; recent research reveals that ancient Egyptian scribes also suffered from professional illnesses.
Recent research has revealed that ancient Egyptian scribes, dating from 2700 to 2180 BC, also experienced physical ailments due to their work, as analysis of their remains showed damage to their hips, jaws, and thumbs, attributed to their daily tasks.
Petra Brukner Havelkova, lead author of the study from the National Museum in Prague, suggested that their research clarifies what occupational risks scribes faced. By studying the skeletons from the necropolis at Abusir, near the Egyptian capital Cairo, researchers identified degenerative joint changes unique to scribes. Compared to men in other professions, these changes were more pronounced among the scribes.
“Our study should provide an answer to the question of what occupational risk factors were associated with the ‘profession’ of scribe in Ancient Egypt,” said Havelková.
The study examined the remains of 69 adult males from the third millennium BC, 30 of whom were known to have been scribes. With only 1% of the population being literate, scribes held high social status and started their careers in their teenage years, often continuing for decades. Their roles necessitated certain physical postures that contributed to specific skeletal stress markers.
Interestingly, while some age-related factors might have influenced the changes, the study found scribes commonly suffered from osteoarthritis in multiple areas, including their jaws, spines, and right-side joints. These physical changes were likely linked to the cross-legged or one-leg squatting postures depicted in ancient art, as well as the habitual use of rush tools. Researchers speculate that scribes might also have experienced headaches and jaw dislocations, indicative of a physically taxing profession.