CREWS at the Cambridge Science Festival 2017!

UntitledIt’s been a busy week for the CREWS Project. We’ve just held our first conference – Understanding Relations Between Scripts II: Early Alphabets – which we’ll be writing more about soon, but before that, last weekend we took part in the Cambridge Science Festival at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

The Science Festival is a major event giving the public the chance to find out more about the research that goes on at Cambridge. There are countless talks and events all across the University, aimed at a broad range of audiences. In particular, the Science Festival attracts families and small children, so we were keen to be involved and to share our enthusiasm for ancient writing.

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Another School Visit

We’ve been doing a bit more outreach this week on the CREWS Project as Queen Elizabeth School, Barnet came to visit the Faculty of Classics. After a morning looking round the Museum of Classical Archaeology they joined us for a talk about writing in the ancient world.

I kicked things off with a look at some of the different types of writing systems that exist and an introduction to Mesopotamian and Ugaritic varieties of cuneiform and the early history of the alphabet.

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Talking objects

In Ancient Greece people would write on almost any kind of object. For example, votes to send a politician to exile for 10 years were written on pottery sherds! This practice of the Athenian democracy was called ostracism because the name for “sherds” in Ancient Greek is ὄστρακα (ostraka).

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Fragments of ceramic with votes for ostracism. Picture taken by the author: Agora Museum, Athens.

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Letter-Writing: Postage stamps featuring ancient writing systems

We’re well into December and the postal services are enjoying their busiest time of the year as parcels and cards fly backwards and forwards. What better time to share this little gem I came across during my research.

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That’s a 1956 postage stamp from Syria featuring the Ugaritic abecedarium KTU 5.6, well-known to regular readers of this blog. I was curious about it, and a few minutes’ research showed that this wasn’t the only Ugarit-themed stamp Syria has issued.

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This one from 1964 isn’t writing-based, but features this famous sculpture of a head, made of ivory and adorned with gold, silver, copper and lapis lazuli. It’s usually assumed to be a statue of a prince or princess, since it was found in the city’s Royal Palace.

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This got me wondering what other countries have featured ancient writing-systems on their stamps. Here are some of the ones I found: Continue reading “Letter-Writing: Postage stamps featuring ancient writing systems”

More Ancient Baking

I have a feeling this will not be the last blog post focused on the special problem of creating edible versions of ancient inscriptions…

In response to the previous post on this theme, A Taste of Ancient Writing, we had a lovely message from Hallvard Indgjerd, a researcher based at St Andrews, who told us about his own experience of baking ancient inscription cookies. He was aiming to make a Linear B tablet and some Greek Alphabetic ostraca in gingerbread.

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(You can read a bit more about Linear B tablets and the script used to write them in a previous CREWS blog post KO RE E WI SU. Ostraca in this context were sherds of pottery that were used to nominate Athenian citizens for exile between the 6th and 4th centuries BC, hence our word ‘ostracism’. However, epigraphists also use the term ‘ostracon’ to refer to any inscription added to an already-broken piece of pottery – you may see the word used like this on the blog in the future.)

Unfortunately, Hallvard discovered a problem with his oven, which malfunctioned and caught fire…

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The gingerbread inscriptions ended up not being quite so edible after all, but there was a happy ending to the story, because as everyone knows, fire is not a bad thing for an inscription! In fact, the only reason the Linear B tablets have survived is that they were burnt by accident in the fires associated with destructions of the Mycenaean palaces in the Late Bronze Age.

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Hallvard’s baking experiment took place 4 years ago, but because of his fortunate accident he still has the cookies today. Keeping them maybe is not quite as much fun as eating them… but preserving ancient writing is always a good thing!

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Now just remember that baking cookies that look like ancient inscriptions is something that anyone can do – why not give it a try? You could make some ostraca and ostracise all your friends… And if you do, please remember to get in touch and tell us all about it! (Email us at crews@classics.cam.ac.uk or find us on Twitter @crewsproject).

 

(All images in this post courtesy of Hallvard Indgjerd.)

 

Introduction: Natalia Elvira Astoreca

Hello everyone! My name is Natalia Elvira Astoreca and I’m the new PhD student of the CREWS project. I just started two weeks ago but this new adventure looks very exciting already. During the next three years I will be focusing my research on the origins of the Greek alphabet – or rather the Greek alphabets, because in the early years there were numerous different local systems used in different areas. The other day I was talking with an old friend about Classics and my field of research and she told me “it is so interesting and exciting to know where words come from!” And so I answered “well, I’m trying to find out where letters come from.”

I know it sounds like I’m doing research in something that has been studied before, but I believe that we don’t understand in depth how the invention of the Greek alphabet really was – if we ever get to understand it. Most of the previous studies about the Greek alphabet tried to figure out when it was created, where or how Greeks adapted the Phoenician letters and their shapes to write their own language. The Greeks themselves were very conscious about where their alphabet was taken from: Herodotus called it φοινικήια γράμματα, that is, Phoenician letters.

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Phoenician writing. Kilamuwa inscription, 9th century B.C. (Image taken from: University of Southern California)

What we want to know in the CREWS project is actually how the adaptation happened from a contextual point of view. So some questions I would like to approach are, how did this contact happen and what did the Greeks use writing for? But even more puzzling than this is how and why the Greeks developed different kinds of Greek alphabets so similar and different at the same time. To answer these and other questions we have to look at the earliest Greek inscriptions and at the cultures that were in contact with them.

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Dipylon Oinochoe, 8th century B.C. (Photo taken by author)

In my previous research I have already worked with another writing system: the Paphian syllabary. This is one of the syllabaries used in ancient Cyprus to write Greek and it was in use from the 8th to the 3rd century B.C. I studied its contact with other scripts, its social context and most importantly the political consequences of its use once the standard Greek alphabet arrived in the island. I did this by bringing together linguistic, epigraphical, historical, archaeological and even numismatic approaches.

I hope that this new research will bring exciting answers about the origin of the Greek alphabets. My colleagues and I will keep you up-to-date on the results of our investigations. Enjoy the CREWS project blog!

 

~ Natalia Elvira Astoreca (CREWS PhD student)

CREWS News: New team members!

 

Finally the time has come for the exciting project news that I have been waiting to tell you all about! I am delighted to announce that the CREWS project is welcoming two new team members.

 

Dr Philip Boyes will be joining the team on 1st November as a Research Associate, and will work on the social context of writing at the Late Bronze Age city of Ugarit. Coming from a background of Levantine history and archaeology, the project will benefit greatly from his interdisciplinary approach to developments in writing and their relationship with other sorts of social change.

 

Natalia Elvira Astoreca just joined the team a few days ago as the project’s PhD student, and is going to be working on the early development of the Greek alphabet. With previous experience of research on Cypriot writing and Greek epigraphy, she is going to consider questions such as why and how the early Greek alphabet displayed such a high degree of regional diversity, and how it was related to other alphabetic systems.

 

I am very excited to be working with Philip and Natalia, and looking forward to see the project grow and develop as we conduct our research together. In the meantime you can read about Philip and Natalia on the project’s ‘About’ page HERE.

 

We will be back soon with more posts about writing in the ancient world, including one from Philip introducing his research. Fun times are ahead for the CREWS project!

 

 

~ Pippa Steele (Principal Investigator of the CREWS project)

Reitia, Venetic goddess of writing

I have been promising for a while to say something about the Venetic goddess of writing. Last term, my colleague Dr Katherine McDonald gave a short seminar series on the Venetic language, which was used in the Veneto area of Italy in the second half of the 1st millennium BC (at least, this is when most of the evidence for it dates from).

The Venetic language has clear affiliations with other Italic languages, which can be seen for example in some words that look very similar to what we find in Latin (such as ego for the first person pronoun “I”). It was written in an alphabet that seems to have been derived from an Etruscan alphabet (itself derived from the Greek alphabet), although it has some peculiarities of its own, including a complex system of punctuation for syllables.

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