A brief introduction to the introduction of cuneiform on the Armenian Highlands: Guest post by Annarita Bonfanti

Hi! I am Anna Bonfanti, former PhD candidate at the University of Pavia (Italy), and my research is (still) focused on different aspects of the Urartian culture: the adoption and adaptation of the cuneiform writing system by the Urartian royal class appeared to be a particularly important and curiously understudied topic.

Firstly, a brief introduction to the topic in general: Urartu is the exonym commonly used to indicate an Iron Age statal entity whose core area was located on the Armenian Highlands, around lake Van (modern-day Eastern Turkey).

It emerged as a more or less cohesive state in the second half of the 9th century BCE, and it gradually declined until it disappeared, probably at the beginning of the 6th century BCE. What’s curious about this state is its peculiar adherence to an Assyrian model, both in the arts and in literature, so much so that the study of the Urartian culture was initially conceived as a minor branch of the Assyriological studies. My thesis, originally born as a study of the different traces left by contacts with other populations in the Urartian culture, ended up being a reflection on the reasons why the Urartian culture owes so much to the Assyrian model.

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The last round of CREWS Visiting Fellows

We were delighted to be able to welcome one last round of new CREWS Visiting Fellows this term, and very excited to hear about their work on a range of different writing systems and research questions. You can read more about their research below.

Two of our Visiting Fellows, Annarita Bonfanti and Claudia Posani, are going to be giving a zoom seminar on Friday 20th May. Download the poster below for details.

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VIEWS: Pippa’s exciting new project!

I am ever so excited to announce that I have been awarded a new Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council, to pursue a new five-year project called VIEWS: Visual Interactions in Early Writing Systems! You can read an announcement about it here:

Visual Interactions in Early Writing Systems (VIEWS) awarded ERC grant

VIEWS will start up in October, and will investigate the visual properties of pre-modern writing systems (often overlooked in favour of their linguistic properties) as well as their context in wider visual landscapes and visual culture. It will involve some Linear A and B, some cuneiform, some Phoenician, some Egyptian hieroglyphs and even some Mayan – with a whole lot more besides as I’m really keen to get some global perspectives on writing by looking towards other areas such as east Asia, Africa and the Pacific. I’m also particularly interested in pursuing some new research ideas related to writing system vitality and loss, with potential to help us think about how we can revitalise endangered writing systems in the modern day.

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Homeric writing… in Lego!

Happy International Lego Classics Day – the highlight of our calendar here at CREWS! To celebrate, I’ve put together a special post on writing in the Homeric epics, which, as you’ll see, gives us a great excuse to talk about how writing developed all around the Mediterranean in the Bronze Age and Iron Age.

A possible reference to something being written down in the Iliad? Read on to find out more!

There is a very big Classical problem at the heart of this post: the so-called “Homeric Question”. Which is actually more like a group of questions. Who was Homer, the individual credited with composing the Iliad and the Odyssey? Was he a real individual, or is “Homer” a convenient umbrella term for multiple individuals involved in the poems’ composition? When and in what circumstances were they composed? And – in some ways the most interesting question – do the poems refer to real historical events in an identifiable historical period?

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Writing on Lions

We had a great time at our recent conference, Writing around the Ancient Mediterranean: Practices and Adaptations. Among a wonderful variety of perspectives on ancient writing systems, as presented by members of the CREWS family of researchers, one unexpected theme that surfaced involved lions (and some other felines) with inscriptions – which seemed like the perfect topic for a blog post!

By the way, if you missed the conference, don’t worry because we have uploaded the presentations to our YouTube channel – see HERE for the playlist.

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CREWS Visiting Fellows, coming soon

I am delighted to announce the outcome of the third and final round of the CREWS Visiting Fellowship, which will see a further three scholars coming to spend time with us here in Cambridge working on ancient writing systems. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused some delays with our fellowship programme, and there is sadly still some uncertainty about when Visiting Fellows from our second and third rounds will be with us – but we are very much looking forward to welcoming them when circumstances allow. In the meantime, you can read a bit more about the new fellows and their research below. Featuring ancient Byblos, Old Phrygian and machine-learning tools for restoring Greek, Latin and other inscriptions!


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Teaching with CREWS

Do you want to learn more about writing in the ancient world? Then read on!

I am excited to tell you that we recently received a small grant to develop some teaching materials based on our research on ancient writing systems and practices! Firstly, we want to make as many resources as we can available to the wider public, and we hope that lots of people will enjoy and learn from these – especially in these dark times when so many of us are isolated from each other, looking for something to take our minds off the news, and so many children are learning at home. This post is going to give you an idea of resources that are already available, and ones that are coming soon.

Lego Pippa and Philip demonstrating ancient writing techniques to a crowd of fascinating onlookers. Lego tableau by Philip Boyes!

Eventually we aim to release packages of materials aimed at children aged 8-11, so do look out for more news on this if you teach in primary education or have children the right age! Continue reading “Teaching with CREWS”