chapter  1
16 Pages

The ancient world

ByPaul Delsalle

The history of archives, and of their management in the ancient world, is comparatively recent as a discrete area of research. One of the largest groups of rock carvings (or petroglyphs) can be found in what is now alpine Italy. The Near East was once considered the sole cradle of writing though it is now acknowledged that writing emerged independently in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and Mesoamerica. The city of Ugarit, sited at Ras-Shamra on the Mediterranean coast of what is now Syria, is of archival interest for the period before the twelfth century bce. The huge appetite for written documentation seems so typical of Pharaonic Egypt that the society has been characterised as a 'literocracy' where literacy and the writing of documents marked the exercise of political and administrative authority. The nature of 'archives' as by-products of administrative activity requires that their history must always be a separate study from the history of the book or of libraries.