Contexts of and Relations between Early Writing Systems (CREWS) is a European Research Council funded project hosted at the Faculty of Classics, Cambridge.
The aim of the CREWS project is to take an innovative and interdisciplinary approach to the history of writing, developing new methodologies for studying writing systems and their social context. The project researchers will be working on specific case studies relating to inscriptions of the ancient Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean and Levant (c.2000-600 BC). By looking at the ways in which writing systems were developed and used, we can study not only the systems themselves and the languages written in them, but also the cultural settings in which they were adapted and maintained.
By focusing on the Mediterranean in 2nd and 1st millennia BC, the project will be able to investigate writing during a period when we know there were high levels of contact between different areas. Against this backdrop of linguistic and cultural interconnections, a study of how writing was passed on and adapted for new uses has the potential to give new insights into social history. Writing is more than just a vessel for recording language: it is a tool that is shaped by and contributes to the society in which it exists.
For an introduction to the concepts underpinning the project see the welcome post here.
The CREWS project begins on 1st April 2016 and runs for five years, until 2021. The project’s page on the Faculty of Classics website is here.
Principal Investigator: Dr Philippa M. Steele
As Principal Invesitigator, Pippa Steele is working primarily on the writing systems of Middle-Late Bronze Age Crete and Greece for her project research. This involves studying the Cretan Hieroglyphic, Linear A and Linear B scripts, looking at the contexts in which they were used and aiming to reconstruct the ways in which they are related to each other. Another aspect of this research involves studying the adaptation of writing systems for a new language from a theoretical point of view, and to aid this research she is also working on the development of the Greek alphabet from Phoenician and the spread of alphabetic systems around the Mediterranean. Linear B and the Greek alphabet provide a particularly useful point of comparison because they are both scripts that were borrowed and adapted to write the same language, Greek.
Following a doctorate focusing on the non-Greek languages of ancient Cyprus, Pippa has held a Henry Lumley Junior Research Fellowship (Magdalene College) and a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, both at Cambridge. Her books include A Linguistic History of Ancient Cyprus (CUP 2013) and Society and Writing in Ancient Cyprus (CUP – coming out later this year), the latter a publication of her Evans Pritchard Lectures series given at All Souls College, Oxford, in 2014. She has also edited conference volumes and written numerous articles and book chapters on languages and writing systems. Her other research interests include ancient multilingualism and language contact (a field of study that is very much relevant to the propagation of ancient writing because writing systems were often adapted in multilingual situations) as well as the languages and writing systems of ancient Cyprus and the development of the Greek language over time in the eastern Mediterranean. She is a Senior Research Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge.
You can view Pippa’s Classics Faculty web page here.
Other researchers on the project
Two postdoctoral researchers and a PhD student will join the project team during its first year. The selection processes for some of these positions have already been taking place, and further details will be added soon.
This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 677758).