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World's oldest profession?

Risk management often seems like a young profession. Every time a huge catastrophe strikes, or a new form of risk emerges, it seems as if we have hardly begun to manage risk. But two remarkable archeological discoveries could change that perception. While these have gone largely unnoticed outside of a few science journals, they firmly establish that risk management is indeed the oldest profession.

The first was made in January 2008 in Aiai Jeie, Egypt. Hieroglyphs found deep inside of the funerary complex assumed to be for the family of Ramses detailed the roles and salaries of important members of the palace staff.

Not surprisingly, one of the key positions in the kingdom was that of the "Papee Chuolow" or "danger tamer." His job was to coat the royal valuables with some sort of flame retardant, monitor the river for floods, capture dangerous beasts that escaped from the royal zoo and to make sacrifices to the god of fate and gambling. Not surprisingly, he was paid roughly three times that of the royal "grain tabulator".

In Egyptian times, the person responsible for protecting the royal property was part of the royal retinue. Perhaps if CEO's were being eaten by escaped tigers, risk managers would be given more credence and we would not have had some of the recent disasters on Wall Street.

In a remarkable coincidence, a second reference to risk management was found, according to the Royal Journal of Archeological Transcription, only three weeks after the Egyptian find was published. This time the information came from some recent translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls found in Israel near the town of Al Eyens. The scrolls related to passages about Noah and the Great Flood. Noah was, in a way, one of the best risk managers of all time. What is interesting about the recent translation is that it details how 33 other prophets had also warned of large calamities.

For example, a prophet named "Jorvenar" predicted that the world would be "engulfed by a massive fire" caused by the "wasteful burning of fossil fuels"; he beat Al Gore to the global warming alarm by about 3,000 years. Other prophets warned of mass poisonings, plague, famine and some more esoteric disasters. Apparently, by the time Noah came around to predicting the Flood, the population was completely desensitized to warnings about the end of the world. Even more remarkably, the newly translated scrolls also discuss the period after the Flood. The survivors sought to avoid another catastrophe. Unfortunately they focused only on the flood peril. After they had built a fleet of arks, the boats caught fire and the resulting blaze burned down the entire town. There was also a famine and a plague. Perhaps Jorvenar and his friends had the disasters correct but the dates wrong.

There can be little doubt that more of these ancient references to risk management will be found in the future. There is some speculation that ancient Mayans had developed actuarial methods to predict past losses, which is very unfortunate because prediction of future losses might have prevented the demise of their civilization. So far it looks as if the Mayans, unlike the Egyptians, had no risk manager on the royal payroll. Coincidence?

[Every single "fact" in the preceding column took advantage of the very wide latitude afforded by April Fools Day. Taking the author seriously would be a grievous mistake.]

BEAUMONT VANCE is the risk management columnist for Risk & Insurancer. He manages risk for a leading financial company. He can be reached at
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Title Annotation:RISK MANAGEMENT
Author:Vance, Beaumont
Publication:Risk & Insurance
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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