Our series of blog posts on objects in our special writing-themed display at the Fitzwilliam Museum is drawing to an end, with just three objects left. This week the spotlight is on a replica clay tablet inscribed in Linear A, which I made as part of a practical writing experiment.
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?
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.
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.
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:
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.
We recently had the pleasure of being involved in a number of outreach events organised through the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. That meant talking to the public about our work and showing people (especially groups of children) how to write in ancient writing systems. These are more than ‘just’ outreach events for us – they are a valuable opportunity to put our theoretical work into practice and share it with others!
You don’t have to be present at these events to join in! If trying your hand at ancient writing appeals to you, have a look at our ‘write your name’ sheets HERE. Currently available are the ‘standard’ Greek alphabet, the Cretan alphabet, Phoenician, Ugaritic cuneiform, Linear B and Egyptian hieroglyphics. They can be downloaded and used for free so please do have a look and try writing your name or a message.
First up was the Prehistory and Archaeology Day organised by the McDonald Institute in Cambridge. This was a big event with all sorts of different activities, where the opportunity to learn an ancient writing system was just one of the possibilities on offer. Philip helped to run a drop-in stall (alongside colleagues from Archaeology and Classics) showing people how to write in Ugaritic and Akkadian cuneiform as well as other scripts. The practical element to this was not only learning to write in these scripts but also using a stylus to write something on a clay tablet.
Philip has just had an article published on Eurogamer looking at writing systems, and the problem of decipherment, in computer games and the ancient world. You can read the whole thing here:
Last week I had the pleasure of going on a tour around the Pepys Library at Cambridge’s Magdalene College, where the book collection of famous 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys is kept – including his famous diary itself. Pepys wrote his diary in a sort of code, which got me thinking about how we decipher coded texts, a problem closely related to working with undeciphered ancient writing systems.
The bookplate Samuel Pepys carefully pasted into the books in his collection. By permission of the Pepys Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge.
I just discovered that it is International Cat Day – which is unusually relevant to my research at the moment! But why should someone who works on ancient writing be so interested in cats all of a sudden? Well, we need to travel back in time to the ancient Aegean to discover the reason.
Readers may be interested in a post I’ve written over on the Oxbow Books blog. It ties in with a recently published book, but I hope it’s interesting in its own right as a brief introduction to the syllabic writing systems of the Bronze Age Aegean and Cyprus (Cretan Hieroglyphic, Linear A, Linear B, Cypro-Minoan).
The main point is to show that what we mean by ‘undeciphered script’ can vary quite a lot, from writing systems where we have no idea about the values of signs to ones where we know what many of the signs stand for but do not understand the underlying language. And it’s also just a little bit about how I live up to my lifelong dream to be Indiana Jones…
You can read the post HERE.
~ Pippa Steele (Principal Invesitgator of the CREWS project)