Coptic ostrakon

Possibly from Thebes, Egypt
Early Islamic period, perhaps 7th or 8th century AD

Pottery sherd with the openings of several verses from the Psalms

People often used broken pieces of pottery or stone as a convenient surface for recording information or even doodling. These pieces are called ostraka. Written material of the Coptic period often had a religious theme, including extracts from the Bible, church sermons and tales of martyrdom. Ostraka were also used to record aspects of the day to day running of monasteries, such as the delivery of foodstuffs. The broken sherds are often from vessels used for the transport of products, including olive oil and wine.

The Coptic script was widely used in Egypt from the late third century AD until the Arab conquest in the seventh century AD. It developed when the use of hieroglyphic and associated handwritten scripts died out when Egypt became a Christian country. Coptic is still the official language of the Christian Church in Egypt, known as the Coptic Church. It is a direct descendent of the language written in hieroglyphs, using Greek characters to record the consonants and vowels of the ancient Egyptian language. Jean-François Champollion's knowledge of Coptic was essential to his decipherment of the hieroglyphic script using the inscriptions on the Rosetta Stone.

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More information


H.R. Hall, Coptic and Greek texts of the (London, 1905)

F.D. Friedman, Beyond the Pharaohs (Rhode Island, 1989)

S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)


Height: 13.200 cm
Width: 10.000 cm

Museum number

EA 14030


Hay Collection


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