The first CREWS conference: Understanding Relations Between Scripts II: Early Alphabets

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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.[1] 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”

CREWS at the Cambridge Science Festival 2017!

UntitledIt’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.

Continue reading “CREWS at the Cambridge Science Festival 2017!”

Thank you ERC!

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.

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Today, I’ve been at an event based in Cambridge where the Principal Investigators of ERC grants in the arts, humanities and social sciences gave presentations to explain the work they are doing with their projects. Hosted at the McDonald Institute (the home of archaeology in Cambridge), it was a very jolly and incredibly enjoyable event. Just to hear the advances that have been possible with ERC funding was a joy – and it was a privilege to speak as one of the Principal Investigators.

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We were fortunate to be joined by the President of the European Research Council, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, who later spoke at another related event and expressed his thanks to everyone taking part in today’s presentations, as well as explaining his hopes and expectations for the future of ERC funding. You can learn more about the ERC’s 10th anniversary celebrations HERE (as you will see if you follow the link, the ERC has made a huge impact on research in countries across the world, not only across Europe).

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ERC funding has made the CREWS project a reality – without funding of this type or on this scale, it would simply be impossible to attempt the sorts of ambitious combined and comparative analyses of different areas that form the crux of the project. The presentation I gave today lasted 15 minutes and went into some detail on the different areas we will be focusing on as our research progresses. Unfortunately I can’t recreate that here, but if you would like to hear some snippets about what we are doing at the CREWS project,  have a look at the video at the bottom of the page.

I’d just like to finish by wishing the ERC a very happy birthday – and by thanking everyone involved in this incredible organisation for all the work they do to support excellent research.

~ Pippa Steele (Principal Investigator of the CREWS project)

Another School Visit

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.

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Then Natalia took over and moved things into the Mediterranean as she looked at some of the different ways the Greeks used writing and the different things they wrote on, and how the Greek alphabet developed into the Latin one we use today.

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The pupils had lots of interesting questions for us to answer, on everything from how the Latin alphabet was adapted to a Germanic language in English to our thoughts on the future of writing.

We were also able to show them an inscribed sherd of Greek pottery from the Museum’s collections and casts of Linear B tablets.

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It’s lovely to be able to talk to young people about the ancient world and to share our enthusiasm for ancient writing systems. We hope we’ll be able to do much more of this sort of thing in the future (and if you are interested in arranging a school visit, please get in touch with us at crews@classics.cam.ac.uk any time). In the short term, look out for us on Saturday 18 March at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research in central Cambridge – we’ll be there as part of the University’s Science Festival.

~ Philip Boyes, Research Associate, CREWS Project

Eating more ancient artefacts

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:

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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:

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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:

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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!

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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 crews@classics.cam.ac.uk. 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!

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Just can’t get enough of edible ancient inscriptions?

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!

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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):

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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):

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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 crews@classics.cam.ac.uk or find us on Twitter (@crewsproject), where you may also want to use the hashtag #ancientbaking. We’d love to see what you make!

More Ancient Baking

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.

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(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…

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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.

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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!

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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 crews@classics.cam.ac.uk or find us on Twitter @crewsproject).

 

(All images in this post courtesy of Hallvard Indgjerd.)