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”
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. 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”
It’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.
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.
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.
Well, there is a pleasant trend emerging for the baking of edible forms of ancient artefacts! Małgorzata Zadka at the University of Wroclaw sent us pictures of some gluten-free vegan cookies she had made with Linear A inscriptions:
These are replicating a particular type of Linear A text found on small, round clay documents known by modern scholars as nodules and roundels. They often bear a single sign (as in the examples shown here) that seems to have functioned in some way logographically – which is to say that it stood for a whole word or concept. Here are some close-ups:
I was also pleased to notice last week that there was a news story in the New York Times about the efforts of Katy Blanchard (who works with the Near Eastern collections of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania) to create cuneiform cookies. Here is a picture of some of her creations:
And finally, CREWS project researcher Philip has found some images of previous ancient baking endeavours, including biscuits and a pie featuring Minoan iconography and a Phoenician jug cake. I feel lucky to work with someone so talented!
Don’t forget that we would love to see your own creations if you have a go at making ancient inscription cookies or anything else like this! You can share them with us on Twitter (we are @crewsproject and use the hashtag #ancientbaking) or you can email us at email@example.com. You could even look for inspiration on ancient writing systems you could use on some previous CREWS blog posts, e.g. this Ugaritic Cuneiform one, this Greek Alphabet one or this Linear B one. We look forward to hearing from you!
~ Pippa Steele (Principal Investigator of the CREWS project)
Edit: I couldn’t resist adding these pictures of cupcakes inspired by black figure pottery, made for an open morning at the Classics Department of Bolton School Girls Division, shared with us on Twitter today. I love the colours – channelling Exekias right there!
Team Cuneiform (@cooleiform) tweeted us yesterday with a picture of their cuneiform cookies in the latest episode of ancient baking. And delicious they look too!
I’ll also take this opportunity to mention our colleague Anna Judson, a fellow researcher in Cambridge who is an expert in making cakes of ancient inscriptions (in this case I can testify to their deliciousness, having been on the receiving end many times!).
Here’s one example, a very early Cypro-Minoan inscription in a gorgeously lemony edible manifestation, made for a conference I organised in 2015 (see more on Anna’s blog HERE):
And another, a Lycian inscription turned into chocolate traybake heaven, made for some Lycian language classes I ran last year (see more on Anna’s blog HERE):
Don’t forget to share your own creations with us. They don’t have to be as elaborate as Anna’s cakes! Cookies and cupcakes are good places to start – and if you need any inspiration, you can look back over the CREWS blog or get in touch. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Twitter (@crewsproject), where you may also want to use the hashtag #ancientbaking. We’d love to see what you make!
I have a feeling this will not be the last blog post focused on the special problem of creating edible versions of ancient inscriptions…
In response to the previous post on this theme, A Taste of Ancient Writing, we had a lovely message from Hallvard Indgjerd, a researcher based at St Andrews, who told us about his own experience of baking ancient inscription cookies. He was aiming to make a Linear B tablet and some Greek Alphabetic ostraca in gingerbread.
(You can read a bit more about Linear B tablets and the script used to write them in a previous CREWS blog post KO RE E WI SU. Ostraca in this context were sherds of pottery that were used to nominate Athenian citizens for exile between the 6th and 4th centuries BC, hence our word ‘ostracism’. However, epigraphists also use the term ‘ostracon’ to refer to any inscription added to an already-broken piece of pottery – you may see the word used like this on the blog in the future.)
Unfortunately, Hallvard discovered a problem with his oven, which malfunctioned and caught fire…
The gingerbread inscriptions ended up not being quite so edible after all, but there was a happy ending to the story, because as everyone knows, fire is not a bad thing for an inscription! In fact, the only reason the Linear B tablets have survived is that they were burnt by accident in the fires associated with destructions of the Mycenaean palaces in the Late Bronze Age.
Hallvard’s baking experiment took place 4 years ago, but because of his fortunate accident he still has the cookies today. Keeping them maybe is not quite as much fun as eating them… but preserving ancient writing is always a good thing!
Now just remember that baking cookies that look like ancient inscriptions is something that anyone can do – why not give it a try? You could make some ostraca and ostracise all your friends… And if you do, please remember to get in touch and tell us all about it! (Email us at email@example.com or find us on Twitter @crewsproject).
(All images in this post courtesy of Hallvard Indgjerd.)
Philip Boyes, the new Research Associate on the CREWS project, officially started work this week – and he made cookies to celebrate! Well, there was some discussion as to whether they are cookies or biscuits… but whatever you call them, they taste delicious.
You can read more about them over on Philip’s blog.
As you can see, they are inscribed with several different ancient writing systems – of which you may recognise some from the project logo! There’s also Cretan Hieroglyphic (third from the top on the right) and Cypro-Minoan (the ones at the top of the second and third columns), which were writing systems used in Bronze Age Crete and Cyprus respectively.
Why not try making your own ancient cookies? All you need is a recipe and a pointed object for writing on them. And if you do, please send us photos! (You can send them to the new CREWS email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, or tag us on Twitter, @crewsproject.)
There was a lovely opportunity to spread my enthusiasm about ancient writing this week as the CREWS project hosted its first school visit, when a group from Ardingly College came to see us in Cambridge.
After a talk from me on how we can study ancient writing systems, my colleague Matthew Scarborough showed them some of the inscriptions in Classics Faculty’s Museum of Classical Archaeology (also known as the ‘Cast Gallery’).
It’s always a pleasure talking about ancient writing and why it matters, and I’m looking forward to future school visits and activities as the project develops. Schools interested in visiting us are very welcome to get in touch to make arrangements!
Look out for further posts in the next few days with some exciting announcements about the project team – and in the near(ish) future some more information on school resources and how you can get involved in the project.
~ Pippa Steele (Principal Investigator of the CREWS project)