This 3,200-Year-Old Rock Is Filled With Ancient Egyptian Sick Notes, And Some Of Them Are... Interesting

<span class="copyright">@ Didier Marti via Getty Images</span>
@ Didier Marti via Getty Images

Rishi Sunak’s rant about so-called “sick note Britain” drew the ire of doctors, political experts, and even the Royal College of Nursing earlier this year.

So imagine how the PM might have felt in Ancient Egypt when workers could sign off for the day for reasons like “brewing beer” or “wife bleeding.”

At least, those were some of the sickies inscribed onto a 1250 BC Egyptian “ostracon” (broken-off stone) housed in the British Museum.

What’s the stone?

The ostracon, labelled ‘Year 40’ of Ramses II, is inscribed with New Egyptian hieratic script and lists the days by season and “date” (for instance, “month 3 of summer, day 20″).

“It provides a workmen’s register for 280 days of the year,” the British Museum writes. “A list of forty names is arranged in columns on the right edge of each side, followed to the left by dates written in black in a horizontal line.”

“Above most dates is a word or phrase in red, indicating the reason why this individual was absent from work on that date,” they added.

The most common causes for taking the day off were (predictably) illness, though “the next most frequent is being away with one’s superior doing private work for him, a practice that was not forbidden if done in moderation.”

What are some other reasons to skip work?

“Brewing beer” comes up a lot, as does taking the day to embalm relatives (nope, not only pharaohs were mummified).

A lot of workers were also permitted time off based on their wives or daughters “bleeding.” Presumably, they had to pick up some slack at home.

Poor Huynefer had to take month 3 of Summer, day 3 off due to “suffering with his eye,” but at least he wasn’t Seba on month 4 of Spring, day 17, when “the scorpion bit him.”

Amenemwia had to skip work on month 2 of Winter, day 16 because he was “strengthening the door,” meanwhile, and Aapehti had to ditch the crew on month 1 of Winter, day 14 for “offering to the God.”

“Libating” ― drinking a ceremonial tipple in honour of a God or ancestor ― appears more than once. And odd jobs, like “fetching the stone for the scribe” and “with Kohns making remedies,” appear too.

My personal fave, though? Penduauu, on month 1 of Spring, day 14, was simply “drinking with Khonsu.”

You can view the entire list by checking out the British Museum’s transcript.