The Writing on the Cow: Cute Animal Inscriptions for Springtime!

We’re feeling full of the joys of spring today, so it seemed a good time to hunt for some of our favourite spring-themed inscriptions… And when I say spring-themed, yes, I’m talking cute animals!

1. A Late Bronze Age clay cow figurine with a Cypro-Minoan inscription on its side and a pattern of cross-hatching on its forehead.

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Image courtesy of Silvia Ferrara.

Cypro-Minoan is a syllabic script of ancient Cyprus (in use between the 16th and 10th centuries BC), related to Linear A and Linear B. It is undeciphered, so unfortunately we do not know what the short text on the side of this cow says. This is the only example of a Cypriot clay figurine with an inscription, but Cypro-Minoan texts are found on a wide variety of different objects.

(Technically, we should really call this little chap a zebu, which is a type of bovid with more raised shoulders.) Continue reading “The Writing on the Cow: Cute Animal Inscriptions for Springtime!”

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.


(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…


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.


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!


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 or find us on Twitter @crewsproject).


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


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.


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The Linear B ideogram for a horse.

  Continue reading “World Emoji Day”

Linear B – Alive and Well!

I have already talked about Linear B a little bit on this blog, for example in the post explaining the first line of the CREWS logo HERE. It was a syllabic writing system, used by the Mycenaean palaces in ancient Greece during the 15th-13th centuries BC, and its surviving inscriptions are predominantly detailed economic records of the palatial centres.

We know that within the palatial centres, the central administration was maintaining close control of a wide range of commodities and personnel through written records (see Figure 1 for a record of sheep, for example). Strikingly, these methods of administration were virtually identical at each of the palaces across Crete and mainland Greece – despite being hundreds of miles apart and sometimes also chronologically distant from each other (e.g. the palace at Knossos on Crete was destroyed perhaps as much as 200 years before the mainland palaces).AN00259220_001_l

Figure 1. Mycenaean clay tablet from Knossos, Crete, written in the syllabic Linear B writing system. It is a bureaucratic document recording numbers of sheep. Copyright: Trustees of the British Museum, no. 1910,0423.2.

Now there isn’t time in this post to talk through the details of the Mycenaean economy, although it’s something of a favourite topic of mine and I am sure we will return to it some day. After all, the economic context in which Linear B  was used is key to understanding the use and development of writing in this period – putting the Context into Contexts of and Relations between Early Writing Systems.

But the real reason for this post was to highlight some wonderful work by my colleague Anna Judson, who has created an ingenious boardgame called Mycenopoly. The game uses Mycenaean sites and concepts – and, delightfully, all the text is written in Linear B. Which just shows you that Linear B is alive and well, over 3,000 years later, and that there is much more you can do with ancient writing systems than just studying them in the abstract!


Figure 2. Anna Judson’s Mycenopoly.

You can read more about Mycenopoly on Anna’s blog HERE, and we will return to the CREWS logo and the Venetic alphabet, as promised, sometime soon.

~ Pippa Steele (Principal Investigator of the CREWS project)

Welcome to CREWS

If you have found your way here, then you might already have an idea what the CREWS project is about. Contexts of and Relations between Early Writing Systems – hence CREWS – is a new project that aims to shed new light on developments in the history of writing and the cultural settings in which those developments took place.


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The project has just started up in April 2016 and will run for five years until 2021, giving an ample span of research time that will result in several new publications, conferences, seminar series and a project website, all aimed at furthering research as well as engaging the public with the new discoveries made and methods forged by the project team. It is funded by the European Research Council, and based in the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge.

At the moment, I am flying solo as the Principal Investigator of the project. Over time, however, a team will emerge: two post-doctoral researchers, a PhD student and a research assistant will be joining CREWS during its first year. You can look here for news on job vacancies when they are advertised, and more information on the team members will be added as the team grows.

Continue reading “Welcome to CREWS”