Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Arrested Development?

History sometimes gives the impression that we are viewing ancient Egypt through minimalist eyes. But what we do have may be that of an archivist who long ago tried to collect what remained from former times in order to preserve it. The Rhind Papyrus is not a single document but appears to have been an ancient text with other material attached to it. So it may be just remnants pasted together and not complete texts.

In ancient times the oral transmission of information was the primary mode of instruction. There was no publishing industry and if someone wanted a text of their own they would have to make a copy of some existing text. And limits of the length of a papyrus roll and time available may have resulted in some judicious editing. Cramming may have been practiced even then.

There may not have been a organized effort to preserve and pass on knowledge in early times. What was needed tended to be passed on. What was not most likely was forgotten. The mathematical texts that we do have come from the Hyksos period when foreigners ruled Egypt. And there appears to have been an effort to recover some of the past.

Egypt may have been the victim of its own success. Its relative stability and isolation resulted in little change over long periods. The rate of change may have been too slow. Time might have passed it by and the illiterate "barbarians" were the ones who were motivated to change and ultimately ended up in control.