Over the summer we conducted a competition for the first round of our Visiting Fellowship Scheme, to enable a scholar working on topics relevant to the CREWS project to come and spend some time with us in Cambridge. We had a very strong field of applicants, and were very pleased to be able to make two awards this year, to our top two candidates: Cassandra Donnelly and Willemijn Waal. You can read more about them, and their research projects, below. Continue reading “Announcing the new CREWS Visiting Fellows!”
CREWS Display: A Tiny Cretan Hieroglyphic Seal Stone
This week we are having a closer look at the smallest object in our special CREWS-themed display at the Fitzwilliam Museum, a tiny seal stone made of green jasper and featuring signs of the Cretan Hieroglyphic script. At just 1.4 by 1.1 cm, and dating to the 19th-17th centuries BC, it is a minute but fascinating testament to the earliest writing system attested in ancient Crete.
Continue reading “CREWS Display: A Tiny Cretan Hieroglyphic Seal Stone”
Making ancient writing fun (with Lego and knitting)
The CREWS project Twitter feed has gone Lego crazy today, as you may have noticed. And with good reason, because today is International Lego Classicism Day (look for the #ILCD2018 hashtag on Twitter and you’ll see what I mean).
Our resident CREWS office scribe was the first to get in on the act.
Continue reading “Making ancient writing fun (with Lego and knitting)”
Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the Bloomsbury Summer School in Egyptology, where I developed my reading in Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was a very rich experience, and it certainly improved my knowledge of Middle Egyptian. I wanted to do this because Middle Egyptian hieroglyphics omits almost entirely the writing of vowels. This is the same characteristic in Phoenician and Ugaritic writing systems that I am investigating for my part in the CREWS project.
Detail from coffin of Khnumnakht, Middle Kingdom. Met Museum New York, Rogers Fund, 1915 (http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/544326).
The fact that these three writing systems do not (in principle at least) record vowels is at odds with other notable second millennium BC writing systems, namely Linear B (for Greek) and (non-Ugaritic) cuneiform, which do record vowels. A priori it therefore seems plausible that there should be a link, either genetic or typological, between the Egyptian writing system and that of the early north-west Semitic alphabetic writing systems. Before exploring some possible links in future blog posts, for those who are not necessarily familiar with the Egyptian writing system, I thought in this blog post I would lay out some of the basic principles of the Egyptian hieroglyphic writing system. Continue reading “Learning Hieroglyphics!”
Writing Gods and Myths III: Egypt
Legend has it that it was the Egyptian god Thoth who created writing or, as the Egyptians called it, medu netjer “the words of the gods” (this is what we refer to as hieroglyphics, after the Greek ἱερός “holy” and γλύφω “to carve”). His intention was to give wisdom and a better memory to the Egyptians, but the god Re thought that writing would have the opposite effect, making people rely on written documents for wisdom and memory. However, Thoth still gave writing to a restricted group: the scribes. For this reason, scribes honoured Thoth as their patron.
The god Thoth with writing tools.
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.
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.
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.
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”
World Emoji Day
Did you know that today is World Emoji Day?
Emojis have become an important part of modern writing systems, especially as used online. They may not (yet) be accepted as playing a role in a formal register of writing, but that does not mean that they are not valid written signs.
In fact, emojis are in some ways similar to ideograms, the term we use for individual written signs (e.g. in ancient writing systems such as Linear B) that refer to whole concepts. A smiley face conveys that you are happy or have been made to smile, but instead of writing this out in a sentence you can convey it with a single written sign.
The Linear B ideogram for a horse.
More Mayan, and Variation in Writing Systems
On Wednesday 13th July, the CREWS project hosted its first academic event, a seminar presented by Dr Christian Prager of the University of Bonn. The topic was “Of Codes and Kings: Digital Approaches in Classic Maya Epigraphic Studies”, and gave our speaker the opportunity to tell us all about the digital database of Mayan inscriptions that he is helping to build.
Continue reading “More Mayan, and Variation in Writing Systems”
Mayan Glyphs as a Writing System
Firstly, let me welcome any new readers who have come over from Twitter (where the project now has a presence as @crewsproject). For this post we are going on an exotic excursus away from the Mediterranean, to ancient(ish) Mesoamerica.
Recently I had the pleasure of attending a seminar on Mayan glyphs, given by Steve Houston (of Brown University). It struck me that Mayan provides a fascinating alternative view of the concept of writing – ‘alternative’ because it seems in many ways counter-intuitive, not only to a modern literate person, but even to someone like me who has been working on ancient writing systems for years.
Figure 1. Mural from San Bartolo, with glyphs top left. One of the earliest examples of Mayan writing, c.100 BC.