The first CREWS conference: Understanding Relations Between Scripts II: Early Alphabets


Last week the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge played host to the CREWS Project’s first international conference, Understanding Relations Between Scripts II: Early Alphabets.[1] This was a wonderful opportunity for us to bring together experts on ancient writing systems from around the world and discuss each other’s research.

As with all good academic conferences, despite having a unifying theme – early alphabets – the range of papers was extremely broad. We heard about writing systems from across thousands of years of history and thousands of miles, from the earliest probable alphabetic inscriptions from the Sinai peninsula or the Egyptian desert at Wadi el-Hol, through the Phoenician and Ugaritic alphabets of the Levant, to ancient Greece, Italy and Spain. We heard from epigraphers, linguists and archaeologists, and people who stand somewhere in between. Continue reading “The first CREWS conference: Understanding Relations Between Scripts II: Early Alphabets”

CREWS at the Cambridge Science Festival 2017!

UntitledIt’s been a busy week for the CREWS Project. We’ve just held our first conference – Understanding Relations Between Scripts II: Early Alphabets – which we’ll be writing more about soon, but before that, last weekend we took part in the Cambridge Science Festival at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

The Science Festival is a major event giving the public the chance to find out more about the research that goes on at Cambridge. There are countless talks and events all across the University, aimed at a broad range of audiences. In particular, the Science Festival attracts families and small children, so we were keen to be involved and to share our enthusiasm for ancient writing.

Continue reading “CREWS at the Cambridge Science Festival 2017!”

Thank you ERC!

This week, the European Research Council is celebrating its 10th anniversary. As a body that provides large-scale funding for researchers and their projects, the ERC has made a staggering difference to the world of academia. A project like CREWS simply wouldn’t be possible without this type of funding – and when you multiply that by all the other wonderful projects funded by the ERC in both the arts/humanities and sciences, it adds up to a huge impact on our knowledge and understanding of the world.


Today, I’ve been at an event based in Cambridge where the Principal Investigators of ERC grants in the arts, humanities and social sciences gave presentations to explain the work they are doing with their projects. Hosted at the McDonald Institute (the home of archaeology in Cambridge), it was a very jolly and incredibly enjoyable event. Just to hear the advances that have been possible with ERC funding was a joy – and it was a privilege to speak as one of the Principal Investigators.


We were fortunate to be joined by the President of the European Research Council, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, who later spoke at another related event and expressed his thanks to everyone taking part in today’s presentations, as well as explaining his hopes and expectations for the future of ERC funding. You can learn more about the ERC’s 10th anniversary celebrations HERE (as you will see if you follow the link, the ERC has made a huge impact on research in countries across the world, not only across Europe).


ERC funding has made the CREWS project a reality – without funding of this type or on this scale, it would simply be impossible to attempt the sorts of ambitious combined and comparative analyses of different areas that form the crux of the project. The presentation I gave today lasted 15 minutes and went into some detail on the different areas we will be focusing on as our research progresses. Unfortunately I can’t recreate that here, but if you would like to hear some snippets about what we are doing at the CREWS project,  have a look at the video at the bottom of the page.

I’d just like to finish by wishing the ERC a very happy birthday – and by thanking everyone involved in this incredible organisation for all the work they do to support excellent research.

~ Pippa Steele (Principal Investigator of the CREWS project)

Celebrating women epigraphists

As a woman working on ancient epigraphy, I am ever aware of the great debt owed by everyone in my field to some outstanding female scholars of the past – women whose work paved the way for our understanding of ancient scripts today.

I will just mention two, in celebration of International Women’s Day:


The first  is Alice Elizabeth Kober,  who worked on the Linear B writing system in the 1930s and 1940s, before it was deciphered. She famously observed patterns in sequences of signs that reflected inflectional morphology in Mycenaean words – i.e. the different noun and verb endings that another scholar, Michael Ventris, later managed to decode as Greek inflection.

You can read more about Alice Kober HERE, on a website hosted by the University of Texas at Austin. If you look around the site, you will discover that you can even read some of her correspondence about Linear B with other scholars who were working on the script at the same time.

lilian jeffery

The second is Lilian (Anne) Hamilton Jeffery, who worked on the different types of Greek alphabet that appeared all around the Greek-speaking world in the Archaic period (8th to 5th centuries BC). Her careful documentation and study of ancient inscriptions resulted in a 1961 publication titled The Local Scripts of Archaic Greece – a book that I still use every day when I am working on the Greek alphabet.

You can read more about Anne Jeffery HERE, on the Poinikastas website hosted by the University of Oxford. The website also hosts some very useful resources for the study of Greek inscriptions, based on Jeffery’s archives.

I feel lucky to follow in the footsteps of such women – and I will add that I have many wonderful female colleagues today, who no doubt will one day be equally famous for their epigraphic discoveries!

~ Pippa Steele (Principal Investigator of the CREWS project)

Pippa Steele

Another School Visit

We’ve been doing a bit more outreach this week on the CREWS Project as Queen Elizabeth School, Barnet came to visit the Faculty of Classics. After a morning looking round the Museum of Classical Archaeology they joined us for a talk about writing in the ancient world.

I kicked things off with a look at some of the different types of writing systems that exist and an introduction to Mesopotamian and Ugaritic varieties of cuneiform and the early history of the alphabet.


Then Natalia took over and moved things into the Mediterranean as she looked at some of the different ways the Greeks used writing and the different things they wrote on, and how the Greek alphabet developed into the Latin one we use today.


The pupils had lots of interesting questions for us to answer, on everything from how the Latin alphabet was adapted to a Germanic language in English to our thoughts on the future of writing.

We were also able to show them an inscribed sherd of Greek pottery from the Museum’s collections and casts of Linear B tablets.


It’s lovely to be able to talk to young people about the ancient world and to share our enthusiasm for ancient writing systems. We hope we’ll be able to do much more of this sort of thing in the future (and if you are interested in arranging a school visit, please get in touch with us at any time). In the short term, look out for us on Saturday 18 March at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research in central Cambridge – we’ll be there as part of the University’s Science Festival.

~ Philip Boyes, Research Associate, CREWS Project