Homework that an ancient Egyptian child was diligently working on during the 2nd century AD has been discovered completely preserved and is set to be put on display in an exhibition by the British Library called “Writing: Making Your Mark.”
According to Live Science, the ancient Egyptian homework was first put into the hands of the British Library in 1892 and the work on it was written onto wax which was then placed on a slab of wood. On the small tablet there are different lessons upon which are written thoughts like “You should accept advice from a wise man only” and “You cannot trust all your friends.”
Despite being the homework of a young ancient Egyptian, the actual lessons themselves were in Greek and demonstrate what schoolwork would have been like 1,800 years ago. With the homework set in two different parts, the first lesson involved would have been a simple writing exercise in which the teacher wrote one line, which the student “rather clumsily” copied twice, as co-curator of the British Library Peter Toth explained.
The second part of the homework featured something that many young students are familiar with today — a multiplication table — followed by exercises in reading. While there is no name on the wooden tablet, researchers believe that the student was almost certainly a boy who would have come from a very well-to-do family as only those who were extremely wealthy were normally educated in a formal fashion in ancient Egypt.
While the young boy would certainly have been practicing his homework in these formal handwriting lessons, lessons like these were also an important part of teaching children a moral code at a young age. As Toth noted, “It’s not only the hands and fingers but also the mind that is being instructed here.”
Homework slabs like this one were fashioned by ancient Egyptians through the simple process of pouring melted, black wax into a cavity that was forged out of a square piece of wood, where the melted wax could eventually cool. Once the wax was fully set, it could then be used by both teacher and student with a sharpened metal stylus for important lessons.
Because wax would not normally last long in a more moist climate, it is thanks to the dry region of Egypt that this tablet has lasted as long as it has, according to Toth, thereby “preserving the clumsy handwriting of a primary school pupil from almost two millennia ago.”
Besides the tablet with the ancient Egyptian homework, the exhibition at the British Library will be displaying over 100 different examples of writing throughout history and is set to run from April 26 through August 27, 2019.