A couple of weeks ago, when I wrote about my visit to the British Museum, one person commented that the cuneiform tablets looked like pop-tarts. Anyone familiar with the CREWS Project and our love of ancient baking will know that this is the sort of challenge we can’t let go. I haven’t had pop-tarts since I was a kid, and not too often then, but it turns out they’re not too difficult to make. Naturally we had to give it a try.
We’ve talked a lot on this blog about how important it is to think about ancient writing in its physical capacity – as part of an object – not just as text. This is why we’re so keen on trying out ancient writing techniques for ourselves. But it’s not just making new things; it’s looking at real ancient tablets with an eye for their material characteristics and the practical techniques used to make them.
Last week I was lucky enough to visit the British Museum for a hands-on study session with some of the most famous tablets of the Near Eastern Bronze Age – the Amarna Letters.
I am very lucky to be able to spend a few months in the British School at Athens (BSA) and to travel around Greece to do some epigraphic fieldwork for my Thesis. But when I was organising my stay here, many friends and relatives asked me what it is exactly that I was going to do here and why I needed to see the inscriptions for myself if there are editions and photographs. I write this post to answer those questions and to explain the whole process of the epigraphic fieldwork before, during and after the visits to the museums.
The reality is that sometimes there are no photographs for the inscriptions that you work with. The edition may be old and, if no one else cared to take photographs, you are left with only a drawing that may be more or less trustworthy. Even with some photographs it is difficult to see the text clearly and that is precisely why they are accompanied by a drawing (not the other way around). The importance of epigraphic photographs and drawings is that they show what the editor sees, so they are in the end an explanation to how he reads and interprets the inscription. However, I was taught not to trust drawings or photographs (if you keep reading you will see why), so I decided to go and see for myself some of the most problematic and important inscriptions of my Thesis.
Archaeological site of the Athenian Agora.
Our series of blog posts on objects in our special writing-themed display at the Fitzwilliam Museum is drawing to an end, with just three objects left. This week the spotlight is on a replica clay tablet inscribed in Linear A, which I made as part of a practical writing experiment.
Philip has just given an interview for Atlas Obscura, all about his adventures in making Ugaritic cookies. As regular readers will know, this is more than just baking – this is a lovely opportunity to work on replica Ugaritic cuneiform tablets, think about how they were inscribed, and then eat the results afterwards!
You can read the article here:
We recently had the pleasure of being involved in a number of outreach events organised through the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. That meant talking to the public about our work and showing people (especially groups of children) how to write in ancient writing systems. These are more than ‘just’ outreach events for us – they are a valuable opportunity to put our theoretical work into practice and share it with others!
You don’t have to be present at these events to join in! If trying your hand at ancient writing appeals to you, have a look at our ‘write your name’ sheets HERE. Currently available are the ‘standard’ Greek alphabet, the Cretan alphabet, Phoenician, Ugaritic cuneiform, Linear B and Egyptian hieroglyphics. They can be downloaded and used for free so please do have a look and try writing your name or a message.
First up was the Prehistory and Archaeology Day organised by the McDonald Institute in Cambridge. This was a big event with all sorts of different activities, where the opportunity to learn an ancient writing system was just one of the possibilities on offer. Philip helped to run a drop-in stall (alongside colleagues from Archaeology and Classics) showing people how to write in Ugaritic and Akkadian cuneiform as well as other scripts. The practical element to this was not only learning to write in these scripts but also using a stylus to write something on a clay tablet.
Philip’s post about the Prehistory and Archaeology Day last Saturday – and the problem of finding the right stylus for writing Ugaritic cuneiform in clay.
About a year ago I posted a series following my attempts to write Ugaritic cuneiform, first in plasticine and then in clay. I ended up using the square end of a chopstick for a stylus, and this is what I’ve been doing ever since, including in my cuneiform baking. It works, but it’s fiddly – the stick has to be held just right to make the wedge-shaped prints, and it takes practice to stop them being large and clumsy.
Last weekend I took part in a Prehistory and Archaeology Day as part of Cambridge University’s Festival of Ideas. Hosted by Cambridge Archaeological Unit, this offered hundreds of members of the public – mostly children – the chance to try their hands at a wide range of archaeology-related activities, from spear-throwing and archery to excavation and osteology. The ancient writing systems stall was particularly eclectic, with academics from the Faculty of…
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Here at the CREWS project we are excited to be involved in a number of activities that are coming up in the next couple of months. Here is a round up…
Cambridge University hosts the Festival of Ideas in late October, bringing to the public all the most exciting aspects of research going on at the university – but in the most accessible and fun ways we can think up!
First up, we will be at the McDonald Institute’s Prehistory and Archaeology Day, where trying your hand at ancient writing will be just one of the activities on offer. This is an all day event on Saturday 21st October at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit.
Also coinciding with part of the Festival of Ideas is a brand new exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, Codebreakers and Groundbreakers. This exhibition will examine various aspects of the codebreaking process by focusing on two important 20th century events: the breaking of the Enigma code by Alan Turing and the decipherment of Linear B by Michael Ventris. Opening on 24th October, it will be running until early February – so if you have a chance to come to Cambridge in this period, please do drop by and have a look! Continue reading “Coming up at CREWS…”
Since I joined the CREWS Project last November, I’ve been teaching myself Ugaritic. Over the last few weeks I’ve had the chance to put that knowledge to work. It’s traditional among Cambridge’s classical linguists to spend the last term of the academic year learning a language outside the usual repertoire of Greek and Latin. This year it was my turn to lead the group in Ugaritic. Continue reading “Learning Ugaritic and Making Tablets”
We’ve talked before on this blog about the importance of hands-on experience with inscriptions. Seeing and handling the real thing gives a much clearer idea of the practical realities of reading and writing an ancient script than working from a transcription or even a drawing or photograph.
So I was very lucky this week to be able to visit the British Museum with Cambridge’s Assyriologists, for a behind-the-scenes tour and a hands-on session with some of their many cuneiform tablets.