The Netherlands Institute for the Near East

Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten  -  Institut nĂ©erlandais du Proche-Orient

05 Feb 10:30

Bookkeeping Without Writing: Early administrative technologies in context

Lucy Bennison-Chapman


NINO Postdoctoral Research Fellow 1st Annual Conference

Friday 5th & Saturday 6th February 2021

Conference programme

Registration now open – limited places available. Scroll to bottom of page for further information.


This conference brings together varied specialists to explore how non-literate systems of information storage were used in the Near East from the late Neolithic, and why they persisted into the first millennium BC. The world’s earliest known written script, cuneiform, emerged as the bureaucratic tool of administration in the city-states of south Mesopotamia during the late-fourth millennium BC. Yet crucially, tokens continue to be used as an administrative tool, alongside bullae, seals and written texts into the first millennium BC in Mesopotamia. Did tokens merely replicate the information stored within cuneiform script for the illiterate masses? Were they physical guarantees or receipts to be handled, performing a mnemonic function in a way that cuneiform tablets could not? The relationship between and social implications of the dual use of written and non-literate administration and information storage devices will be explored via examination of the evidence from Mesopotamia. This will be interpreted in alongside examples of complex, non-written administrative systems from the ethnographic and historical record from various cultures, world regions and time periods.


In view of the persisting COVID-19 situation, we have rescheduled the conference to take place entirely online.

The full programme will be posted here the week of the event. All times are for Amsterdam, the Netherlands, which is Central European Standard Time (CET/GMT+1). Please note the late start time on day two to accommodate delegates joining from the USA.

Friday 5th February 2021

10:30am-5pm – Delegate presentations

Saturday 6th February 2021

12:30-5:30pm – Delegate presentations; panel discussion session.


  • Welcome & introduction
  • Session 1: Background and setting
  • Session 2: Late Neolithic
  • Session 3: Early historic period
  • Session 4: Historic/Ethnographic parallels
  • Session 5: Discussion & closing


Participants and papers

Convenor: Dr. Lucy E. Bennison-Chapman, NINO Postdoctoral Fellow

Name and affiliation (alphabetical) Paper title (or topic)
Prof. Peter Akkermans
Leiden University
Dating the Sealing: Revisiting Tell Sabi Abyad and the Case for Property Control in Late Neolithic Upper Mesopotamia
Prof. Douglas Baird
University of Liverpool
Dr. Lucy Bennison-Chapman (organiser)
NINO, Leiden University
The Origins of Non-Written Administrative Technologies in the Near East: The example of late Neolithic Tell Sabi Abyad
Prof. Stuart Campbell
University of Manchester
Account for Change? Symbols and information management in the later prehistory of northern Mesopotamia
Dr. Ben Haring
Leiden University
Scribal and Non-scribal Modes of Visual Communication in Egypt (Deir el Medina)
Dr. John MacGinnis
British Museum & University of Cambridge
The Role of Tokens in Later Mesopotamia
Manuel Medrano
University of St Andrews
The ‘Paper Khipus’ of the Early Colonial Andes
Prof. Steven Mithen
University of Reading
Symbolic Thought, Cognition, Prehistoric Mind: The relationships between words, thought and cultural evolution
Prof. J. Cameron Monroe
University of California, Santa Cruz
The Dahomean Royal Palace Sphere: Administrative Tactics in a West African State of the Atlantic Era
Dr. Tanja Skambraks
University of Mannheim
Tally Sticks in Medieval Europe
Dr. Christina Tsouparopoulou
University of Cambridge
Seals, bullae and other graphic devices used in late third millennium Mesopotamian administration
Dr. Willemijn Waal
NINO, Leiden University
The Role of Bullae within the Hittite Administration Revisited
Prof. Christopher Woods
University of Chicago
New Perspectives on the Dawn of Writing in the Ancient Near East: The study of Proto-literate clay envelopes from Choga Mish, Iran, using state-of the-art Computed Tomography (ct) technology



The conference is free and open to all; advance registration required through this link.
Registration is now open and ends on Thursday 4th February 5:00pm or when all places are filled.

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