CyCoMed-iation (or why are we so fond of ancient Cyprus)

Guest post by CREWS Visiting Fellow Giorgos Bourogiannis

After three weeks in Cambridge, I am still feeling delighted to have been given the chance to work closely with the research team of the CREWS project. I am particularly thankful to the project’s director and principal investigator, Dr Pippa Steele for her hospitality and kindness. I am an archaeologist, rather than a linguist or epigraphist by training, but there is something I share with all members of the CREWS team: a very strong scholarly interest in ancient Cyprus.

This post has two main goals: The first one is to briefly view Cyprus through archaeological spectacles and to explain the island’s eminent position in the archaeology of the Mediterranean. The second goal is to present a summary of my own research project, CyCoMed (Cypriot Connectivity in the Mediterranean from the Late Bronze Age to the end of the Classical Period), which is what generated my visit to Cambridge and my collaboration with the researchers of the CREWS project.

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Map of the Mediterranean marking the position of Cyprus.

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Writing indigenous languages

Did you know that 2019 is the UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages? There are thousands of languages spoken in the world today, but many of them are strongly localised and in danger of dying out because of the small size of their speech communities, and because their speakers often choose to use successful global languages over their local languages. IYIL sets out to raise awareness of indigenous languages in order to benefit their speakers and to bring about a better appreciation of their important contribution to the world’s cultural diversity.

What I want to talk about briefly in this post is the writing down of indigenous languages, in the ancient world as well as the modern – really just a few collected thoughts on diversity of experience.

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New CREWS Visiting Fellow announcement

It won’t be long now before we advertise the new round of our Visiting Fellowship competition, but in the meantime we have some other news – we are delighted to tell you that we will be welcoming Dr Giorgos Bourogiannis to Cambridge as an externally-funded CREWS Visiting Fellow next term! Read more about his project below.

Giorgos Bourogiannis (National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens)

gb.jpgGiorgos is an archaeologist and postdoctoral research associate at the National Hellenic Research Foundation in Athens. Since his PhD (2008) he has worked as a curator for the Naukratis project at the British Museum, Department of Greece and Rome, and has held the A.G. Leventis postdoctoral position at the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities (Medelhavsmuseet) in Stockholm, studying the unpublished evidence from the sanctuary of Ayia Irini on Cyprus (you can see a video about his work HERE).

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Writing and Society in Ancient Cyprus – Pippa’s new book

A couple of months ago my new book, Writing and Society in Ancient Cyprus, was published with Cambridge University Press. This was a long-term project, beginning with a series of lectures given at All Souls College, Oxford, in 2014 and culminating in a work that underpins the research undertaken at CREWS. In fact, it was in writing this book that the whole idea for the CREWS project began…

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CREWS Display: A Cypriot Seal with a Fish-man

We have finally come to the last object in our special display at the Fitzwilliam Museum. Don’t be too sad yet though, because there is still more than a month to come and see it (until 10th June 2018) if you have a chance to visit Cambridge.

This week’s object is a little stamp seal from ancient Cyprus, featuring a fish-man with Cypriot Syllabic writing behind him to the top-left, probably 7th-6th C BC. At just 2.1 x 1.2 cm, it’s the second smallest item of our set. Now part of the Fitzwilliam Museum’s own collection, we do not know exactly where it came from but its Cypriot provenance can be confirmed because of its Cypriot Syllabic inscription.

ANE.97.1955(1) Continue reading “CREWS Display: A Cypriot Seal with a Fish-man”

CREWS Display: A Cypriot Figurine with a Greek Alphabetic Inscription

fig whole.jpgOur next object, from our special CREWS-themed display at the Fitzwilliam Museum, has a privileged position in the Cypriot gallery: standing in its own cabinet in the centre of the room. At first glance, you wouldn’t guess why this Cypriot statuette is included in an exhibition about writing, but if you move around it, you may see that it has some scratches on the back side.

Although it would seem that these are random damage to the stone, they conceal a votive inscription written in the Greek alphabet. This is the perfect excuse to talk about the presence of the Greek alphabet in Cyprus and also about how epigraphists work with problematic inscriptions like this one to untangle the text behind them.

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Article by Pippa on the Aegean scripts

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A quick post to let you know of an article I wrote on the syllabic writing systems of the ancient Aegean and Cyprus (though excluding Linear B). This was for the catalogue of an exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum called Codebreakers and Groundbreakers, which examined Michael Ventris’ decipherment of Linear B alongside Alan Turing’s breaking of the Enigma Code.

Other chapters in the volume focused on Linear B, while I was asked to write about the related syllabic writing systems of Crete and Cyprus.

You can read the article online here:

Other pre-alphabetic scripts of Crete and Cyprus

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CREWS Display: Par(a)menon’s Tombstone

Pippa has already told us about the decipherment of the Cypriot syllabaries. With the next item of our display at the Fitzwilliam museum, I have the opportunity to outline how they were used to write in the Greek language.

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This is an inscription engraved on a stone that indicates the burial of a man. It was found in Marion (in the north west of the island) and dated around the 5th – 4th centuries BC. Continue reading “CREWS Display: Par(a)menon’s Tombstone”

CREWS Display: A Cypro-Minoan Clay Ball

For this week’s inscription post based on our CREWS display at the Fitzwilliam Museum, we’re going to be revisiting ancient Cyprus – this time in a much earlier period than we discussed for the Idalion Bilingual. This little item might look unassuming (it’s only a couple of centimetres in diameter, don’t be fooled by the photo!), but it is very important for trying to understand the earlier development of writing on Cyprus.

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Image courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum.

The item in question is a small ball made of clay, with writing in what we call the “Cypro-Minoan” script around the outside, which is on loan to us from the British Museum. It was found at the Cypriot site of Hala Sultan Tekke, in the island’s south-east. Continue reading “CREWS Display: A Cypro-Minoan Clay Ball”

CREWS Display: The Idalion Bilingual

Welcome to the first in a series of posts on the objects taking part in our display at the Fitzwilliam Museum. You can read more about the setting up of the display, which is an exciting collaboration with the Fitzwilliam and the British Museum, in our previous post. The idea is to use a small set of objects from these museums (plus two replicas made by the CREWS team) to highlight what we are working on and to tell some of the stories behind writing in the ancient eastern Mediterranean.

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One of the stars of the show is this limestone statuette base found in the remains of a religious complex at Idalion in Cyprus, known as the Idalion Bilingual, which is on loan from the British Museum for our display (you can see its BM listing HERE). This is inscribed with a dedication written in Phoenician (Phoenician consonantal alphabet) and Greek (Cypriot syllabic script). The Idalion Bilingual was the inscription that provided the vital key needed to decipher with Cypriot syllabic writing system, and is sometimes thought of as the ‘Rosetta stone’ of Cyprus. Continue reading “CREWS Display: The Idalion Bilingual”