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What is difficult to determine is whether the actual weight of the metal was being described, or its value in deben, or for that matter, whether the Egyptians made such a distinction. For example, in the Cairo Ostracon 25242 verso, twenty deben of copper was added to four deben as the value of a basket, demonstrating that the actual weight was difficult to separate from the idea of its value.

A deben of copper was not distinguished by the Egyptians from one of bronze. In general, both were valued as one kite of silver (though this measurement varied somewhat, particularly over time). silver debens were only rarely mentioned on ostraca, but are more common in papyri. Papyrus, of course, was used to record official and thus more expensive transactions, while the ostraca were used by the villagers to record private, smaller transactions. Thus, when the word deben is used alone on ostraca, copper should be assumed.

A senyu (seniu), perhaps meaning “piece), is a weight in sliver equal to about 7.6 grams. However, unlike the other weights mentioned here, the senyu was exclusively a unit for calculating value, and was not considered as a real unit of weight itself. Its value is calculated as five deben of copper (or sometimes six and as much as eight during the New Kingdom). The senyu could be used to express a value in the same column of figures with deben. The Berlin Ostracon 1268 states the value of objects in senyu, but the total of the column is in copper deben. The Varille Ostracon 25 shows the value of a razor at one deben, while a donkey was valued at seven senyu.

A third unit of value was the hin, a measure of volume equal to .48 liters. Its value was calculated as 1/6 senyu, but other calculations show that it was also equal to one copper deben. We believe that the value of the hin was probably based on that of one hin of sesame oil, said to be equal to one copper deben. Though other oils were also measured in hin, their values seem to vary in relation to the deben.

The khar is a measure of the volume of grain, either emmer or barley, equal to 76.88 liters. It could be divided into four oipe. The term khar can probably be translated as “sack” and was valued at two deben of copper. The khar was most commonly found as a unit of value for baskets, both because the volume of the basket was equal to its value and because baskets are relatively inexpensive.

It should be noted that both the hin and the khar seem to have been more of weights and measures rather than units of value.

Throughout Egyptian history, all of these measures do not seem to exist at the same time, with the exception of the period between Ramesses II through Ramesses V. During this period a bed, for example, might be valued in deben while its legs were valued in oipe.

The rough equivalent values among deben, senyu, hin and khar, as provided above, reveal the difficulty of calculating precise values for commodities, as well as fixed ratios among the four different units. According to various documents, for example, a senyu could be equal to either four, five or six deben.

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