From the Guardian:

A dusty crate of broken bits of pottery discovered at a stately home in Dorset has given a fresh insight into the life of the ancient Egyptians - and it turns out that concerns over mortgages, taxes and simply making ends meet were as important then as they are now.

More than 200 "ostraka" - potsherds inscribed with notes - were found in the cellar of the National Trust property Kingston Lacy, near Wimborne Minster.

Revealing the find yesterday, experts said some of the ostraka featured lists of temple priests who "stood before the god", but most were concerned with the minutiae of everyday life.

Among the messages translated are receipts for a poll tax bill paid by a farmer, tax paid on handicrafts, income tax from a crop of dates and tax for the maintenance of public utilities.

At least 16 of the tax receipts were issued to the same taxpayer, Patsibtis, son of Petorzmethis. He is also a taxpayer on more than 20 ostraka in the British Museum and other collections.

Brian Muhs, who oversaw the translations, said: "Because there are a lot of ostraka, and many relate to the same people, we are able to build up a picture of what life was like. It is possible to build up a picture of income, jobs, family makeup.

"Some show that the lives of farmers were very hard and they ended each year in debt and had to sell their harvest of dates to pay their taxes," added Mr Muhs. "It was a perpetual cycle of hardship."

Receipts and notes were written on broken pottery because they were less expensive than papyrus or parchment.Originally they were used as voting ballots to exile unpopular members of a community - thus "ostracised".

The Kingston Lacy ostraka were collected in the early 19th century by the Egyptologist William John Bankes, who stored them at his Dorset mansion.

Since the National Trust acquired the estate in 1982 it has been cataloguing the artefacts. Its researchers found the 212 ostraka, 175 of them with identifiable text in three languages. The oldest dates from around 1,200BC but the majority are in Greek and date from the Roman occupation of Egypt around AD200.