Document Translation: it’s as Old as the Hills

Written documents of one type or another have been around for thousands of years. In fact as soon as one civilization or another popped up somewhere around the world, a form of writing soon came into existence, even if it was written in hieroglyphics on a stone slab or on a papyrus sheet. As civilizations had a habit of conquering other lands or, more diplomatically, trading with them, documents soon had to be officially translated. The need for a document translation service was born.

Nobody knows exactly when the oldest documents were written and even less when document translation began, but there have been many documents preserved from the ancient Egyptians and the Sumerians which give an insight into the way these early civilizations carried out their affairs. Note that in many cases, the language in which these earliest document were written has probably become extinct and the documents have actually been translated meticulously and painstakingly by dedicated translators so that the present day population can understand them.

One of the oldest documents that surfaced only in the late nineteenth century and is known as the Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus, written on Egyptian papyrus over 4,000 years ago. It dealt with many aspects of women’s health, although the medical advice given would give any doctor palpitations today: it mainly seems to suggest that ‘fumigation of the womb’ is the best treatment for anything from toothache to ear or neck aches!

For one of the first documents that suggests an ancient version of what a NAATI visa translation service provides today, then turn to nothing other than the treaty written and signed over 3,000 years ago between the Hittites and the Egyptians after a squabble that sorted itself out rather amicably in what is present day Syria. The treaty spells out what each side should do in a variety of scenarios, including unwanted immigrants, uprisings in each other’s country, and promises ‘everlasting peace’ between the two civilizations.

Document translation has also unearthed some of the oldest written laws that were recorded – in ancient Sumeria. In the reign of King Ur-Nammu, it was stated, for instance, that committing perjury was a crime three times as bad as raping a slave. The Sumerians vied for the title of oldest documents with the ancient Egyptians in many ways. Several love poems and stirring tales of bravery, like the ‘Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor” are Sumerian epics of their time, dating back 4,000 years. The oldest love poem was written on a stone slab around the size of a mobile phone and probably doesn’t say anything different from what a couple of modern day lovers might be texting about!