The Writing on the Cow: Cute Animal Inscriptions for Springtime!

We’re feeling full of the joys of spring today, so it seemed a good time to hunt for some of our favourite spring-themed inscriptions… And when I say spring-themed, yes, I’m talking cute animals!

1. A Late Bronze Age clay cow figurine with a Cypro-Minoan inscription on its side and a pattern of cross-hatching on its forehead.

CM cow side and head.jpg

Image courtesy of Silvia Ferrara.

Cypro-Minoan is a syllabic script of ancient Cyprus (in use between the 16th and 10th centuries BC), related to Linear A and Linear B. It is undeciphered, so unfortunately we do not know what the short text on the side of this cow says. This is the only example of a Cypriot clay figurine with an inscription, but Cypro-Minoan texts are found on a wide variety of different objects.

(Technically, we should really call this little chap a zebu, which is a type of bovid with more raised shoulders.)

2. A clay tablet from Pylos with a Linear B inscription recording sheep, including some described as young.

Cn 40 small

Photo courtesy of Rupert Thompson.

Mycenaean Linear B (see more HERE) was a syllabic writing system used to write Greek, which means that we can understand what this Late Bronze Age document says. In the Mycenaean world it looks as though literacy was limited and writing was only used for bureaucratic purposes – and one of those purposes was to record contributions of animals to the central administration.

Animals were evidently not only being kept for food – they also produced important by-products (in the case of sheep, wool is the obvious one). Linear B tablets like the one in the photo (PY Cn 40, to give it its proper designation) demonstrate that it was important to the central administration to keep a record of the age and sex of animals like sheep, including lambing records.

Here is a close-up of the ideogram for a sheep (i.e. the sign denoting “sheep” that appears before the numeral telling us how many were in the flock):

OVISm.jpg

You may be thinking it doesn’t look much like a sheep… But if you look at the curved line of the head, perhaps it might put you in mind of a cartoon version like Shaun the Sheep!

shaun

3. No spring chicken… An Etruscan cockerel-shaped vase with an early abecedarium inscribed around its body.

24.97.21ab

Bucchero vessel in the shape of a cockerel. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fletcher Fund, 1924. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/251482.

We have seen this 7th century BC cockerel in a previous blog post, see HERE. The abecedarium around its body gives the signs of the Greek alphabet in order – and it was this alphabet that was adopted by the Etruscans. The object was possibly an inkwell, and was certainly a playful piece of local ceramic art!

4. Mayan rabbit scribe depicted on the 7th-8th century AD ‘Princeton Vase’.

Princeton vase Mayan bunny close up

Photos from the Princeton Art Museum. Late Classic, Maya (‘Codex’ style) The Princeton Vase, A.D. 670–750. Ceramic with red, cream, and black slip, with remnants of painted stucco h. 21.5 cm., diam. 16.6 cm. (8 7/16 x 6 9/16 in.) Museum purchase, gift of the Hans A. Widenmann, Class of 1918, and Dorothy Widenmann Foundation Place made: Nakbé region, Mirador Basin, Petén, Guatemala y1975-17.
 

A more exotic example now, showing a rabbit doing something rather unexpected – sitting in a crouched position and writing with some sort of brush or pen! The object on which the rabbit scribe appears is a ceramic cup intended for drinking chocolate, as the inscription around the top of the vessel tells us.

The depiction of the act of writing is a very important piece of evidence. We might assume that giant rabbits were not involved in writing Mayan texts! But nevertheless this is a good indication of what writing might have looked like for Mayans, showing us the kind of stance and implement that might have been used by a human performing the same task.

Princeton vase Mayan bunny

Photos from the Princeton Art Museum. Late Classic, Maya (‘Codex’ style) The Princeton Vase, A.D. 670–750. Ceramic with red, cream, and black slip, with remnants of painted stucco h. 21.5 cm., diam. 16.6 cm. (8 7/16 x 6 9/16 in.) Museum purchase, gift of the Hans A. Widenmann, Class of 1918, and Dorothy Widenmann Foundation Place made: Nakbé region, Mirador Basin, Petén, Guatemala y1975-17.

Even overlooking the historical importance of the Princeton Vase… you have to admit, there is nothing cooler than a Mayan bunny depicted in the act of writing on a chocolate cup!

~~~

Well, those are our choice picks for inscriptions with a springtime cute animal theme. If you can think of others, please let us know – and they don’t need to be ancient either! I am particularly put in mind of the frequent appearance of rabbits in Medieval illuminated manuscripts, and cannot help but link to THIS by way of illustration. But modern examples are equally welcome.

Please send us your own springtime animal inscription sightings by commenting on the blog or tweeting us (use the hashtag #animalinscriptions).

~ Pippa Steele (Principal Investigator of the CREWS project)

Pippa Steele

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