Script and Society: The Social Context of Writing Practices in Late Bronze Age Ugarit

How does writing work as a part of society and culture? That was the question I set out to address when I joined CREWS in 2016. It’s not a complete question, though. Society and culture are specific things, particular to a given place at a given time. No two societies operate in the same way, and culture is arguably even more prone to differences, not just by time and society, but even within societies themselves. As long-term followers of this blog will know, my specific case study has been the kingdom of Ugarit, a small but important Syrian trading power in the fourteenth to twelfth centuries BC. Now, after four years of research, I’ve finally been able to offer up some answers in the form of a book, Script and Society: The Social Context of Writing Practices in Late Bronze Age Ugarit, just published by Oxbow books.

Since excavations began over 90 years ago, Ugarit has been an extremely important site in Near Eastern studies because of its large corpus of surviving clay tablets. Many of these are written in the Akkadian language and the logosyllabic cuneiform script that was used across much of the Near East and East Mediterranean in this period. However, just over half the tablets from Ugarit are written in a different script and language: an alphabetic form of cuneiform used to write the local Ugaritic language. In addition, there are relatively small collections of written material in other scripts and languages such as Egyptian hieroglyphs and Cypro-Minoan.

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Animating the Alphabet – in Lego!

Today is International Lego Classics Day on Twitter, an annual occasion when classicists all over the world dive into their Lego collections to build models related to their research. We’re big Lego fans here at CREWS and every year we try and do a couple of things for ILCD. As this year will be the last when the Project is running, we wanted to pull out all the stops. This is the result, a short film telling the history of alphabetic writing through the medium of Lego stop-motion.

I’ve wanted to try my hand at a CREWS-related stop-motion video for a while but the timing has never worked out. Fortunately this year I had just sent off proofs for two forthcoming CREWS publications so had enough leeway in my diary to get stuck in to a little Lego project for a few days.

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On a PhD, CREWS and Brexit: a vital experience

On 22nd of June 2016, one day before the Brexit referendum, I had the interview for my studentship at the CREWS Project. I still don’t know where I got the courage to apply for a PhD at the University of Cambridge. Probably from my mum, who told me: “Imagine how many people won’t even apply just because they feel as intimidated as you are right now.” She was right, and I had nothing to lose.

I remember asking my interviewers how a supposed Brexit would change the situation of the project and mine if I were the chosen candidate, as I am a Spanish national and CREWS is fully funded by the European Research Council. They told me not to worry about it, that most probably it wouldn’t happen. While Britain was voting, I got the good news: I was successful in the competition and was invited to do my PhD as part of this project. The bad news came the following morning: the UK had voted to leave the EU. But that would take quite a long time to materialise, in fact, as much as my thesis.

So there I was, in September 2016, arriving for the first time in Cambridge. The months and years to come were happy ones. Although I missed my family, my people, my Madrid, I was feeling truly independent in my personal and professional life. I owned my work and my time, which wasn’t easy at first, but very rewarding once I managed to visualise clearly what I wanted my thesis to look like and how much time I had to finish it.

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Beyond Cyprus conference – with videos

Back in December we had to pleasure to be involved in a conference organised by CREWS Visiting Fellow Giorgos Bourogiannis, Beyond Cyprus: Investigating Cypriot Connectivity in the Mediterranean from the Late Bronze Age to the End of the Classical Period. This was an impressive four-day event, organised as part of Giorgos’s project on Cypriot Connectivity in the Mediterranean (CyCoMed), which is affiliated with the CREWS project.

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Free teaching materials! Writing in the Ancient World

waw cartoon detail
Illustrations by Katie Idle

We are excited to announce the launch of our free teaching materials on Writing in the Ancient World, which includes teaching packs on five writing systems, cartoons and ideas for play sessions. They were designed with age 8-11 children in mind (i.e. roughly Key Stage 2 in the UK), but we hope that they will be useful for a wide range of people and will reach an international audience. If you are interested in learning more, please click through to the links below.

Writing in the Ancient World teaching materials

You may also be interested in these resources:

Write with CREWS videos

Write your name in an ancient writing system worksheets

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Video: Pippa speaking on writing systems and practices, and writing in Bronze Age Cyprus

I was delighted to be invited to speak at the SCRIBO seminar this week, a virtual seminar series on ancient writing hosted in Bologna by Silvia Ferrara, who runs the ERC-sponsored INSCRIBE project.

You can view the whole talk on YouTube here:

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CREWS events in February and March

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Egyptian model granary with scribes, Met Museum.

I am delighted to present a very exciting programme of events here in Cambridge with the CREWS project this term. Egypt and Mesopotamia, Cyprus and Crete – we have got it all covered! If you are in Cambridge, please come and join us.

The talks are mainly given by CREWS Visiting Fellows, with a couple of others thrown in by colleagues speaking on relevant research themes. If you are interested in ancient writing, this is turning into a very exciting term!

Please note that due to the coming UCU strike, there have been changes to some of these dates/locations, which have been marked in red below. There is also a note at the end regarding the strike.

 

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