Our Ancient Writing Display, and Other Ancient Writing at the Fitzwilliam Museum

Today is International Museum Day, a good day to celebrate the stellar work done by museum staff to make museums the places of learning and inspiration that we all know and love. It has been a real privilege to witness this in action through our special writing-themed display at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (a collaboration between the CREWS project and the Fitzwilliam and British Museums).

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If a display on ancient writing sounds interesting, do come and visit – it finishes on 10th June so there is still some time left. You can find it in the Cypriot Gallery at the Fitzwilliam. If coming to Cambridge isn’t easy for you, on the other hand, I hope you can have a sort of virtual tour by looking through our blog posts on each item: the whole list is HERE. Continue reading “Our Ancient Writing Display, and Other Ancient Writing at the Fitzwilliam Museum”

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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”

The Writing Dead: Literacy in The Walking Dead’s apocalypse

Coming up to the season 8 finale of one of my favourite TV shows, The Walking Dead, my mind has been lingering on something other than the fear of main character deaths and the elusive potential for the good guys to find peace with the current bad guys. The curse of being an epigraphist is that I’m always looking out for signs of writing and the contexts in which writing is used – which is, of course, exactly what I’m working on in my day job (albeit for the ancient world rather than a post-apocalyptic alternative reality).

So as I’ve been watching The Walking Dead, I’ve started asking myself: in a world where the dead are everywhere and society has changed radically, what might that mean for reading and writing?

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For TWD fans, beware of a few (fairly mild) SPOILERS if you keep reading – including for season 8, but not the finale. All images in this post are copyright of AMC.

Continue reading “The Writing Dead: Literacy in The Walking Dead’s apocalypse”

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.

Continue reading “CREWS Display: A Cypriot Figurine with a Greek Alphabetic Inscription”

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”

Non-administrative writing in the ancient Aegean and Cyprus

A new published article based on my CREWS project research has just appeared in print, with a focus on non-administrative documents written in Linear A.

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Here is a link to a PDF copy:

• ‘Writing ‘systems’: Literacy and the transmission of writing in non-administrative contexts’ in Jasink, E.M., Weingarten, J. and Carraro, F. (eds.) Non-scribal Communication Media in the Bronze Age Aegean and Surrounding Areas: The semantics of a-literate and proto-literate media, Periploi 9, Firenze 2017, 81-100.

Continue reading “Non-administrative writing in the ancient Aegean and Cyprus”

Ancient Literacy and Cypriot Mercenaries

Earlier this week, Natalia’s post on Cypriots and Iberians told us a little about the Cypriot Syllabic script, which up to now has not featured very much on the CREWS blog. In fact, as someone who has been working on the languages and writing systems of ancient Cyprus for years, this is a subject close to my heart! In this post I wanted to pick up on the question of literacy in ancient Cyprus – and as you will see, the movements of Cypriot mercenary soldiers are an important part of the puzzle.

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Relief sculpture with Cypriot Syllabic inscriptions. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/241924

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What did Cypriots and Iberians have in common?

Did you know that Iberian and Cypriot scripts share the shapes of some signs? Although Iberian scripts do not really fall into the research of the CREWS project, they are fascinating and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to make them appear in our blog. In spite of the long distance between the Iberian peninsula and Cyprus, which were not directly connected in the 5th century BC (approximate date of the first written samples in Iberian), indeed, there are some signs both in Iberian and Cypriot scripts that have the same shape, but with different values. How was this possible?

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Iberian inscription on lead from Ullastret.

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The Bulwer tablet, with Cypriot syllabic writing. Trustees of the British Museum.

Continue reading “What did Cypriots and Iberians have in common?”