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Title: Gender, age, and labour organization in the earliest texts from Mesopotamia and Iran (c. 3300-2900 BC)
Author: Kelley, Kathryn
ISNI:       0000 0004 7430 7451
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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Clay tablets in the Proto-cuneiform script (c. 3300-3000 BC) of ancient Iraq and the Proto-Elamite script (c. 3100-2900 BC) of ancient Iran represent two of the earliest inventions of writing in the world - both of which are only partially deciphered. The separate scripts share only a few signs between them, including signs representing 'man', 'woman' and 'child' in administrative contexts. However, there are significant differences in the use patterns of these shared signs, which have not previously been commented upon or explored. Building on recent advances in text accessibility and decipherment, this dissertation takes a top-down approach, delineating all the uses of the key gender and age signs to reveal to what extent their meanings were comparable between the scripts. The results highlight how social and economic roles overlapped with gender identities in the minds of the scribes who were devising signs to represent humans. They also show that proto-cuneiform scribes devised broader, more flexible applications for the signs studied here than the proto-Elamite scribes found for the equivalent set, hinting at differences in the nature and development of the two scripts. The dissertation defines a number of proto-cuneiform and proto-Elamite accounting genres involving gendered and/or age-defined humans, and begins to clarify the manner in, and extent to which, scribes were involved in labour organization by listing individuals or groups of workers. The sign studies in this dissertation show that 'herded humans', as described by Englund (2009) are explicitly recorded in less than 1% of proto-cuneiform texts, which means that scholars in related fields (G. Algaze 2008; J. Asher-Greve 2008; J. C. Scott 2017) have misapplied Englund's conclusions in arguing that uses of these signs in proto-cuneiform evidence direct, large-scale administration of dependent or coerced laborers. However, a very small number of these slave or captive texts did exist, which used the sign-set KUR ('male'), SAL ('female'), and TUR ('child') to describe humans. Discussion of 'labour organization' in proto-cuneiform should instead be refocused on the varieties of redistributive behaviors and the organization of diverse personnel in proto-cuneiform, using text format clues and corpus-wide analysis of sign use to draw conclusions. Paradoxically, while the absence of 'ration lists' for gendered workers in proto-cuneiform, as demonstrated in this dissertation, shows that over-reliance on later cuneiform can lead to mischaracterisations of the early script, in proto-Elamite the graphically equivalent 'female' and 'child' signs (M72 and M370-complex graphemes) were used almost exclusively in a small number of complex ration-and-worker texts that may in fact find strong parallel in mid-to late third millennium cuneiform rations lists, particularly those including many women and their children.
Supervisor: Dahl, Jacob ; Collins, Paul Sponsor: Clarendon Fund
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available