Hieroglyphics

Hieroglyphs from the tomb of Seti I, 13th century B.C.

It’s believed, that through all human history, 97% of our history has been lost.

Modern humans have existed on this earth for roughly 200,000 years, yet the first known recorded history of mankind is only 5,400 years old. That means, that during our time on this earth, we are only certain of 3% that has actually happened. Everything else is just our best guess — food for thought that is humbling to say the least.

With so many unknowns, one certainly must wonder what the first records of human history are. Artifacts and fossils provide some insight into the activity of pre-historic modern humans, yet there are no pieces of recorded history until sometime in the third millennium — these are very few and far between.

This week, for a change of pace, I thought we could look back and see exactly what these very first pieces of recorded history have to say about the world at that time.

SCORPION TOMB HIEROGLYPHS

As you may have guessed, the oldest recorded history comes out of ancient Egypt. The records are dated around 3,400-3,200 B.C. and are small hieroglyphs carved into bone found in the tomb of Scorpion I, presumed to be one of the first rulers of ancient Egypt.

The records reveal little as they are essentially ancient receipts for the exchange of grains and cloth. They do suggest, however, that some form of record keeping existed long before the creation of the Scorpion I hieroglyphs, yet none are known to exist today.

SUMERIAN BEER PAYSTUB

Beer has been a staple of modern humans for all of our known history. Though it didn’t fizz like today’s beer, had bits of grain floating in it, and was probably never served cold. Ancient humans enjoyed drinking beer as much as we do today.

In modern day Iraq, a 5,000-year-old Sumerian tablet was uncovered that was revealed to be a paystub. What was interesting is it appears that the worker was paid in beer. Though it may seem like low pay to us, in the third millennium, food and metal currency were scarce, so goods and services were often “as good as gold.”

HIEROGLYPHIC BILLBOARD

Near a modern village in Egypt, carved on a rock are some hieroglyphs that are estimated to be around 5,000 years old. These are some of the largest hieroglyphs ever found, and though they are not entirely decipherable, it’s assumed by many archaeologists and historians that they are either an advertisement or a statement of some sort. For that reason alone, the hieroglyphs have been nicknamed the “Billboard”

NARMER PALETTE

The next oldest record of history was found in 1898 in the Egyptian temple of Horus. Again, these are hieroglyphs, but they are valued for their exquisiteness and that the tablets are fully intact. Most agree that the tablets date to around 3,000 B.C. Unfortunately, historians and archeologists have yet to agree on the interpretations of the tablets. All that is known for sure is the tablets refer to Narmer, the First Dynasty king of Egypt.

SEAL OF SETH

In the tomb of Seth-Peribsen was found a clay seal that is believed to be the first “sentence” made entirely out of hieroglyphs. “The one of Ombos (Seth) has handed over the two realms to his son, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Peribsen.” The inscription is believed to be from approximately 2,900 B.C.

KESH TEMPLE HYMN

Found in modern day Iraq, the Kesh Temple Hymn is the oldest liturgy ever to be uncovered. It is guessed to be from 2,500 B.C. and has been fully translated. The hymn is a creation story and ode to a Sumerian God.

It’s often hard to fathom that we humans seem to know so much about the world around us, yet know so little about ourselves. For anyone who has ever wondered why we study history, they need only think of that. Undoubtedly our human ancestors felt the same and began to record certain aspects of life.

In an interesting twist of fate, their history is set in stone and has survived centuries of warfare, plague and everything else that humankind has endured. That being the case, one has to wonder, in our world of virtual technology where few records are physically recorded, what of our lives will endure the test of time? Will future humans look back and know what happened in the world, or are we creating a dark age of sorts that will leave future historians guessing as best they can?

I guess only time will tell.

Brian Haines is executive director of the McLeod County Historical Society and Museum, 380 School Road N.W., Hutchinson. The museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 1-4 p.m. Saturday and by appointment. Admission is free. For more information, call the museum at 320-587-2109.