For those ancient civilizations that used writing – for instance, all the great civilizations in Mesoamerica, China, Egypt, and the Near East – written historical records can answer many social questions. A prime goal of the archaeologist studying these societies is therefore to find appropriate texts. Many of the early excavations of the great sites of the Near East had the recovery of clay writing tablets as the main goal. Major finds of this kind are still being made – for example, at the ancient city of Ebla (Tell Mardikh) in Syria, where an archive of 5,000 clay tablets written in an early dialect of Akkadian (Babylonian) was discovered in the 1970s. In each early literate society, writing had its own function and purpose. For instance, the clay tablets of Mycenaean Greece, dating from around 1200 B.C., were all, without exception, primarily records of commercial transactions (goods coming in or going out) at the Mycenaean palaces. This discovery gives us an impression of many aspects of the Mycenaean economy and a glimpse into craft organization (through the names for the different kinds of craftspeople), as well as introducing the names of the offices of state. But here, as in other cases, accidents of preservation may be important. It could be that the Mycenaeans wrote on clay only for their commercial records and used other perishable materials for literary or historical texts now lost to us. It is certainly true that for the Classical Greek and Roman civilizations, it is mainly official decrees inscribed on marble that have survived. Fragile rolls of papyrus – the predecessor of modern paper – with literary texts on them, have usually remained intact only when retained in the dry air of Egypt, or when buried beneath the volcanic ash covering Pompeii. Coins also provide a valuable source of written records: they can reveal information about the location where they are found, which can provide evidence about trade practices there, and their inscriptions can be informative about the issuing authority, whether they were city-states (as in ancient Greece) or sole rulers (as in Imperial Rome or in the kingdoms of medieval Europe). In recent years, one of the most significant advances in Mesoamerican archaeology has come from deciphering many of the inscribed symbols (glyphs) on the stone stelae (pillars or columns) at the largest centers. It had been widely assumed that the inscriptions were exclusively of a calendrical nature or that they dealt with purely religious matters, notably the deeds of the gods. But the inscriptions can now in many cases be interpreted as relating to real historical events, mainly the deeds of the Maya kings. We can now also begin to deduce the likely territories belonging to individual Maya centers. Maya history has thus taken on a new dimension. Written records undoubtedly contribute greatly to our knowledge of the society in question. But one should not accept them uncritically at face value. Nor should one forget the bias introduced by the accidents of preservation and the particular uses of literacy in a society. The great risk with historical records is that they can impose their own perspective so that they begin not only to supply the answers to our questions but subtly to determine the nature of those questions and even our concepts and terminology. A good example is the question of kingship in Anglo-Saxon England. Most anthropologists and historians tend to think of a king as the leader of a state society. Therefore, when the earliest records for Anglo-Saxon England, found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which took final shape in about A.D. 1155, refer to kings around A.D. 500, it is easy for the historian to think of kings and states at that period. But the archaeology strongly suggests that a full state society did not emerge until the time of King Offa of Mercia in around A.D. 780, or perhaps King Alfred of Wessex in A.D. 871. It is fairly clear that the earlier so-called kings were generally less significant figures than some of the rulers in either Africa or Polynesia in recent times, whom anthropologists would term "chiefs."