You are here

Biblical Archaeology Review 46:3, Summer 2020

Strata: What Is It?

A. Writing board

B. Dinner plate

C. Mirror

D. Board game

E. Idol shrine door

Answer: (A)

Fashioned in Egypt between 500 and 700 C.E., this wooden plate is a part of a wax board book. The recessed surface of the board (imprecisely also called a tablet) was coated with wax and written on by means of the stylus, or pointed pen, whose one end was sharp for writing and the other end wide and flat for erasing (smoothing the wax). The expression tabula rasa, “scraped tablet,” describes a clean, erased board ready to be written on. The technology was widely used in the Greco-Roman world and survived in the West until the Late Middle Ages, when it was rendered obsolete by the increased production of paper. Styli were usually made from metal or bone and occasionally left traces of writing scratched in the boards themselves.

Portable and reusable, wax boards were composition notebooks of the day. They were used by students for writing exercises, by officials for administrative notes, and by authors for creative writing. Single planks were common. Two joined boards (diptychs) with text on the facing, inner sides were apt for confidential letters and legal documents, especially wills. Such documents could be guarded against forgery or unintended audience by passing a thread through holes pierced around the outer edges and applying a seal.

Join the BAS Library!

Already a library member? Log in here.

Institution user? Log in with your IP address.