Deathly inscription thread

I’m very sorry for missing Halloween. I was hoping to complete a script death post in time, but it’s been a long week with no time for writing. So for now, I’m just relaying my Twitter thread on ancient inscriptions that involve deathly, spooky or otherwise horrible themes (click on the tweets to view the thread) – but look out for that script death post some time in November!

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Deciphering Invented Scripts in Computer Games: Heaven’s Vault and Sethian

Earlier this year a game came out which is right up CREWS’s street. Heaven’s Vault is a narrative sci-fi archaeology game where the central mechanic sees the player attempting to decipher a writing system found in ancient inscriptions. It justifiably received a lot of praise from reviewers, offering up a pleasingly thoughtful alternative to the usual video-game portrayal of archaeologists as gung-ho action heroes who negotiate traps and fight mercenaries, Nazis and wild animals. Its developers, Inkle, are well-known for crafting careful and well-written branching narratives, so the exploration and decipherment elements are wrapped up in an appealing choose-your-own-adventure structure.

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Learning Etruscan

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be able to go to Etruscan classes, run by my colleague Prof. James Clackson with a group of graduate students (including our own Natalia) and other colleagues. Etruscan is one of those great mysteries — a well-attested ancient language that we don’t really understand very well. And I have no intention of trying to solve any mysteries in this post. Instead I want to say a few things from my recent experiences about what we do and don’t know about Etruscan, as well as thinking about the way it was written.

800px-Etruscan_civilization_map.pngEtruscan is evidently a non-Indo-European language, and one that does not have a close relationship with any other ancient languages we know. While the rest of the Italian peninsula during the 1st millennium BC was filled with Indo-European languages of the Italic branch (Latin, Faliscan, Oscan, Umbrian, Venetic, etc), the unrelated Etruscan language was spoken in quite a large area of central-northern Italy and is found on a wide range of inscription types. In fact there are something in the region of 9,000 surviving inscriptions – so why don’t we understand the language better? Well, we do and we don’t.

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CREWS Conference Presentations #5 – Writing and Identity

Welcome to the final instalment of this series collecting talks from the CREWS Conference ‘Exploring the Social and Cultural Contexts of Historic Writing Systems‘, which was held last March at the Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge. Our final two talks are:

Dr Katherine McDonald, University of Exeter – Connectivity and competition: alphabets as identities in Italy

Natalia Elvira Astoreca, CREWS, University of Cambridge – Names and authorship in the beginnings of Greek alphabetic writing

We hope you’ve enjoyed this series as much as we did. It was a wonderful conference and we’re very grateful to everyone who came and participated, including those speakers who weren’t able to share their talks in video form. We hope that the proceedings book will be available in the second half of next year.

If you’d like to revisit any of the talks from this conference, the full playlist is available here.

CREWS Conference Presentations #4 – Agency, Personhood and Elite Culture

Welcome back to the this series sharing talks from the CREWS Conference ‘Exploring the Social and Cultural Contexts of Historic Writing Systems’. Today we have two papers focusing on the ancient Aegean.

Professor James Whitley, University of Cardiff – Why με? Personhood and agency in Greek inscriptions (800-550 BCE)

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CREWS Conference Presentations #2 – Archaeology and Materiality

We’re back with more talks from last March’s CREWS Conference ‘Exploring the Social and Cultural Contexts of Historic Writing Systems‘. Today’s papers come from our sessions on the archaeology and materiality of writing.Remember you can subscribe to our YouTube channel to be kept up to date with the release of more videos like these.

Dr Philip Boyes, CREWS, University of Cambridge – The Social Archaeology of Writing Systems

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Watch Presentations from the CREWS Conference!

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Back in March we held our second CREWS Conference, ‘Exploring the Social and Cultural Contexts of Historic Writing Systems’. As you’ll know if you read Pippa’s article about it, it was a very exciting three days where we heard from speakers with a very diverse set of specialisms and approaches on different aspects of how writing practices are shaped by – and shape – the social contexts in which they’re carried out. This is an important topic because all too often we think about writing systems as abstract things which can be understood purely on their own terms, rather than as part and parcel of human action and culture that encompasses everything from cookery to art. Continue reading “Watch Presentations from the CREWS Conference!”

Elven Vowels

As regular readers of this blog will by now know, the focus of much of my work for the CREWS project has been on the notation of vowels. In this post, to coincide the 65th anniversary of the publication of The Fellowship of the Ring, I’m going to have a look at how vowels are notated in some of Tolkien’s invented languages.

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Pippa has already given a great introduction to Elven writing in general here, in the first of today’s celebratory posts. As she points out, studying fictional writing systems can be of great value in the study of real-world ones. This is because fictional writing systems provide the possibility of studying their real-world counterparts ‘from a distance’, so to speak. A fictional writing system provides a canvas on which the inventor (in this case Tolkien) asks the question, “How could a writing system be designed?” When we then compare these with real-world writing systems, we can ask, “Why is it not that way?” This is analogous to the role that fantasy and fairy tale in general have in providing an external perspective on the world in which we live. It enables us to shed the cultural assumptions by which we run our lives, and to consider alternative ways of thinking. Continue reading “Elven Vowels”

Tolkien and Elvish Writing

Today is the 65th anniversary of the publication of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first part of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. To celebrate, we’re going to have a look at Elvish writing and its remarkably analytical structure: the Tengwar signs provide a very close fit for the sounds of the Elvish languages, which is unusual among the world’s ‘real’ writing systems.

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The doors of the Mines of Moria, with inscription in Sindarin, as shown in the film ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’.

The languages invented by JRR Tolkien are at the centre of his tales of Middle Earth, occasionally quoted directly but ever-present too in the names of places and people throughout his stories. Along with the languages, he created a number of writing systems to go with them, fleshing out the linguistic and cultural practices of the characters he had invented, and constructing a complex linguistic history for Middle Earth that was reflected also in script developments. Continue reading “Tolkien and Elvish Writing”

A Tale of Two Scholars, and the Center for Minoan Linguistic Research that never came to exist

Guest post by CREWS Visiting Fellow Cassandra Donnelly

The two months I have spent as a Visiting Fellow with the CREWS project were full of all things Aegean, from the Cypro-Minoan seminar series, to the Mycenaean Epigraphy Room, and the Aegean Archaeology Group’s Work-in-Progress conference. I am incredibly grateful to Pippa, the CREWS team, and the Linguistics E-Caucus for sustained discussions about Cypro-Minoan (or “super” Minoan, as it became known), Ugaritic, and other local Mediterranean script traditions.

While preparing a presentation on potmarks for the Cypro-Minoan seminar I was reminded of a little known episode in Cypro-Minoan historiography, the early correspondence of Alice E. Kober and John Franklin Daniel which centered on Cypro-Minoan (you can read their correspondence for yourself here).

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Pictured right: Alice E. Kober; Pictured left: John Franklin Daniel.

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