Late Bronze Age Clay Time!

Guest post by CREWS Visiting Fellow Cassandra Donnelly

During the last week of April the Program for Aegean Scripts and Prehistory (PASP) hosted its first ever “Late Bronze Age Clay Time! Study Break” in the Classics Lounge in Waggener Hall at the University of Texas at Austin. Approximately twenty  undergraduate and graduate students, along with some staff and their children, produced a veritable archive of Late Bronze Age (LBA) tablets.

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We provided attendees with the clay (local-fire “Longhorn Red” clay from Armadillo Clay), three types of styluses, and one of three different instruction packets. The first type of instruction packet pertained to Mycenaean Greek and Linear B, the second to Ugaritic, and the third to Cypro-Minoan. Each packet included instructions for how to make one of three tablet types, a signary in the corresponding script, and a model text to write in the corresponding language. Each of the texts, once combined, tells the story of the Late Bronze Age copper trade as mediated by Cypriot traders. Continue reading “Late Bronze Age Clay Time!”

Ninety years of Ugaritic Studies

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Mohamed Moursal working at Ugarit

Ninety years ago today, on 14 May 1929, a workman at the excavations of the newly-discovered Syrian archaeological site of Ras Shamra made one of the most important discoveries of the twentieth century for the study of ancient writing systems – a number of clay tablets inscribed in a previously unknown version of cuneiform. Typically for the colonial context and the hierarchical nature of archaeology at the time, it’s usually the French director of the excavations, Claude Schaeffer, who gets the credit for this discovery but the actual discoverer’s name was Mohamed Moursal. Writing some years later, Schaeffer records the moment of the discovery as follows (translated from the French):

At five o’clock in the afternoon, when the setting sun transformed the Alawite mountains east of the tell into a golden fringe, I observed one of my workmen who stopped his work to examine what at a distance had the appearance of a small brick. Mohamed Moursal, a Turk from Bourj Islam, a good workman, but preferring effort rather than the delicate work of releasing fragile objects, spat on his find and with the palm of his right hand rubbed on it to remove the film of earth that masked the surface.

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Ugaritic tablets in situ.

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What to write with? Styli for clay tablets in the ancient Aegean and eastern Mediterranean

My research has taken a fun turn towards practical experiments lately, as some of our Twitter followers may have noticed. It isn’t just because I wanted to get away from the computer (though I did…); it’s because I have been working on a problem where direct evidence is scarce and/or difficult to interpret, and where experimentation is surprisingly elucidating.

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My work on a replica Cypro-Minoan tablet.

We know that during the Bronze Age a number of civilisations around the eastern Mediterranean were using clay to write on. From Mesopotamian cuneiform to Linear A and B in the Aegean, people found that this reusable natural resource provided a vital tool for making records. But they didn’t all use it in the same way, and they didn’t all use the same implements or methods to write on it – instead traditions of writing display considerable regional differences, whether or not there might have been any influences from one place to another. Continue reading “What to write with? Styli for clay tablets in the ancient Aegean and eastern Mediterranean”

An incomplete guide to epigraphy in Greece

This year I spent four and a half months in Greece doing some epigraphical fieldwork, as a visitor to the British School at Athens. This offered me the chance to see many museums and archaeological sites in the country. From my visits I have prepared a small guide of where to find different kinds of inscriptions typical in Greek epigraphy. Please, note that it is incomplete, since it only accounts for the museums and sites that I have visited in the last months during my research and a short vacation in Greece. Feel free to leave comments to let other readers know about wonderful pieces of epigraphy in other Greek museums.

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The tomb of Clytemnestra in Mycenae. Photo from HERE.

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Reaching out with ancient writing

Write your name in the Cypriot syllabary picAt the CREWS project we are conducting new research on ancient writing systems, but the research itself is only one aspect of what we do. There’s no point in finding things out if you don’t communicate them after all. And we love passing on our enthusiasm for ancient writing! That is why we are trying to develop our outreach activities and teaching materials (see more below), and we also report on these aspects to our funding body, the European Research Council.

We want to hear from YOU. Have you used CREWS blog posts in a teaching capacity (e.g. in school or university or just with the kids at home)? Have you used our write-your-name sheets? Have you encountered us at an outreach event? Do you have any requests or resommendations for us?

If the answer to any of these is yes, please consider getting in touch to tell us. You can leave a comment on this post or use our contact form or email. Continue reading “Reaching out with ancient writing”

Indiana Jones and the Ancient Inscriptions

When I was little, I wanted to be Indiana Jones. I grew up on those films, and archaeology was the first profession I dreamed of. The more I watched them, the more I was drawn to some particular scenes that involve pieces of writing – looking back, it feels as though my career began when I became curious about how to become someone who could look at an ancient inscription and work out what it meant.

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In the world of Indiana Jones, being able to read an inscription tends to be linked with cracking codes and solving mysteries. In some ways, that is what I do for a living now (how lucky am I?) – although not usually in life-or-death situations or while being chased by Nazis. Continue reading “Indiana Jones and the Ancient Inscriptions”

Further Experiments in Ancient Baking: Pop-tarblets

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.

DikTLFQWkAIN6-_ Continue reading “Further Experiments in Ancient Baking: Pop-tarblets”

Hands-on with the Amarna Letters

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.

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Continue reading “Hands-on with the Amarna Letters”

The unofficial guide to epigraphic fieldwork: what is it and how to enjoy it?

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.

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Archaeological site of the Athenian Agora.

Continue reading “The unofficial guide to epigraphic fieldwork: what is it and how to enjoy it?”