Hi there! I am Lavinia Giorgi, a PhD student in Mycenaean philology at Sapienza University of Rome (Italy). My PhD research deals with the management and circulation of bronze in the Mycenaean world focusing on the reconstruction of the bronze production chain mainly through the analysis of the Linear B tablets, but also taking into account the Hittite and Ugaritic texts and the el-Amarna letters and combining philological data with archaeological evidence.

In the meantime, I am collaborating with THE PAITO/PHAISTOS EPIGRAPHIC PROJECT, which aims to provide a new critical edition of the Linear B tablets of Knossos mentioning pa-i-to, Phaistos, a place located in southern Crete, adopting the digital photography technologies of RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) and 3D Laser Scanning.

The research I did in Cambridge as a visiting fellow within the CREWS project is part of THE PAITO/PHAISTOS EPIGRAPHIC PROJECT because it focused on the word pa-i-ti-ja, the ethnic feminine adjective derived from pa-i-to.

The word is attested in 9 tablets, covering several topics, dating from different periods (15th-13th century BC) and were written by different scribes. In particular, two of these tablets, KN Ap 639 and KN E 777, are kept at Ashmolean Museum, so, thanks to my stay in Cambridge I was also able to directly access them and take RTI photographs of both.

The selected tablets are a significant sample to investigate palaeographical issues related to Linear B, the logo-syllabic writing spread to mainland Greece and Crete during the Late Bronze Age (16th-12th century BCE). It was used by the Mycenaeans, who adapted the already existing Linear A, the writing used in Crete in the first half of the second millennium BCE by the so-called Minoan culture, to their Greek dialect. Linear B was mainly used for administrative purposes and is attested primarily on clay tablets, found in archives and deposits in the palaces, especially at Pylos in Messenia, Agios Vasileios in Laconia, Mycenae and Tiryns in Argolid, Thebes in Boeotia, and Knossos on Crete.

The main goal of my research within the CREWS project was to analyse the word pa-i-ti-ja attested on the Linear B tablets from a palaeographical perspective using an innovative approach based on graphology and the new photographic technology of RTI. Autoptic analysis of the tablets either from the RTI or directly, when possible, allowed me to examine the ductus of the scribal hands, observing how each scribe would engrave the signs in order to reconstruct the palaeographical ‘identikit’ of the scribes.

RTI is a computational photographic methodology that captures the shape and colour of an object’s surface, revealing an amount of information that cannot be collected through a simple direct examination of a physical object. RTI images are created from information derived from multiple digital photographs of an object, taken with a steady camera, and projecting light from different directions. During this process, a series of images of the same object is generated, with varying highlights and shadows.

The lighting information is then synthesised into a single mathematical model of the object surface using computer software. The RTI image can be manipulated using software that allow the user to re-light the picture interactively from any direction by simply moving the mouse, producing an almost three-dimensional effect. The RTI image allows us to visualize the picture, and consequently the signs with high levels of zoom and high degree of image resolution, and using different rendering modes: Default, Normal and Specular Enhancement. So, RTI technology can help to create digital epigraphic drawings that can be made with an accuracy greater than one hundredth of a centimetre.

Top-to bottom: Default, Normal, Specular Enhancement

However, there is always the risk of having an overabundance of information that the palaeographer must be careful about. For this reason, a combination of RTI images and direct autopsy still remains the best solution to investigate the palaeography of Linear B, even though direct access to the tablets is more difficult than that to RTI images, which are increasingly available online.

In addition, thanks to the advantages of RTI technology it is possible to apply the principles of graphology to investigate the palaeography of Linear B signs.

Graphology is ‘the study of the way people write letters and words, especially in order to discover things about their characters’ (Cambridge Dictionary). Graphology has defined analytic criteria of systematic and objective analysis of writing signs. These criteria can be applied to Linear B writing since the signs are characterised by a simple stroke sequence, classifiable according to the coding and normalization proposed by graphology. The Linear B signs can be described through formulas that combine the typology of the strokes, which takes into account their shape and direction, and the relationships between them. This approach provides a more objective and reversible way to describe signs from a palaeographical point of view.

For example, the standard shape of the syllabograms that make up the word pa-i-ti-ja can be described as follows:

PA (AB 03)

1aI < 2bII, 3bIII (the vertical rod, written from top to bottom and engraved first, is cut by the two horizontal strokes, written after and from left to right)

I (AB 28)

(1aI < 4bIV), 2dII!!, 3eIII!! (the vertical rod, written from top to bottom and engraved first, is cut by the horizontal stroke, engraved last from left to right, while the two lateral rods written from top to bottom are isolated)

TI (AB 37)

(1xI < 2yII), 3aIII!! (the curved left stroke, written from top to bottom and engraved first, is cut by the curved one on the right, written from top to bottom and engraved for second, while the vertical rod, written from top to bottom, is isolated)

JA (AB 57)

1aI, 2aII < 3bIII, 4bIV, 5bV, 6bVI (the vertical lateral rods, written from top to bottom, are cut by the four internal horizontal strokes, written after from left to right).

What was interesting to note was that almost no real attestation of the word pa-i-ti-ja fits the standard model indicated here. So, this means that such formulas highlight the distinctive palaeographical features of each scribe, testifying that it is possible to reconstruct the palaeographical ‘identikit’ of the scribes using a graphological approach on RTI images.

Thanks to this new approach and method, it is possible to describe the ductus of the signs in a coded, reversible, and generally applicable way, using RTI images accessible to a greater number of scholars. So, I would say, we can consider this type of palaeographical study to be a ‘democratic’ way to investigate not only Linear B, but also other ancient writings.

~ Lavinia Giorgi, PhD candidate, Sapienza University of Rome

One thought on “A new approach to old writing: using Graphology and RTI technology on Linear B: Guest post by Lavinia Giorgi

  1. Thank you for this informative post. I have studied Linear B and am now attempting Linear A although I know it has not yet been deciphered. Good luck with your future studies.


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