Conference to be held Thursday 14th – Saturday 16th March 2019.

Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge


Writing systems are not just abstract systems to be deciphered and analysed but an important part of culture, integrated into a multiplicity of other facets of human life, practice and material culture. The study of writing systems is not just a question of epigraphy, palaeography or linguistics but a matter of cultural history. Yet this aspect of early writing often receives less attention. How are writing systems embedded in society and culture? How are they shaped by human practice and agency, and how in turn do they affect these things? What is their relationship with material culture and what would an ‘archaeology of writing systems’ look like?

This conference aims to bring together researchers utilising a wide range of approaches to address these questions, including archaeology, anthropology, cultural history and sociology, and going beyond the traditional epigraphic, philological and linguistic approaches. We are particularly interested in exploring and establishing methodologies for approaching these sort of questions, rather than concentrating only on specific case studies. The conference is focused on historic writing systems, but does not have a specific chronological or geographical restriction: on the contrary, diversity and comparative approaches are encouraged.

We will be welcoming contributions from the open call for papers, as well as a number of invited speakers:

Marcia-Anne Dobres, University of Maine
Technology, agency, material culture

Piers Kelly, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Writing systems, agency; West Africa and Pacific

Katherine McDonald, University of Exeter
Language contact, sociolinguistics; ancient Italy

Christian Prager, Universität Bonn
Maya writing systems

Eleanor Robson, University College London
Social, political contexts of knowledge production in cuneiform culture

Christopher Rollston, George Washington University
Semitic epigraphy and scribal practices

We invite abstracts from researchers from all backgrounds, disciplines and stages of their careers

Papers will last 30 minutes with 15 minutes for questions. Please send proposals for titles together with a 300-word abstract to Dr Philip Boyes ( by 1st October 2018. Proceedings will be published as part of the CREWS series.

Please note that submissions are now closed. Thank you to everyone who submitted a proposal for a paper. We’ll be selecting and contacting speakers soon, and will release information about registration for non-speakers in due course. 


Contexts of and Relations between Early Writing Systems (CREWS) is a European Research Council (ERC) funded project hosted at the Faculty of Classics, Cambridge. This project has received funding from the ERC under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 677758).