Happy International Lego Classicism Day to all our friends and colleagues! In celebration this year, I have been working on something special: a re-imagining of the cover art from John Chadwick’s The Mycenaean World book, in a 3D Lego model. Far from a just-for-fun exercise, this actually has some helpful practical applications in making us question what Mycenaean scribes did at work, and how Linear B archives functioned.
My research has taken a fun turn towards practical experiments lately, as some of our Twitter followers may have noticed. It isn’t just because I wanted to get away from the computer (though I did…); it’s because I have been working on a problem where direct evidence is scarce and/or difficult to interpret, and where experimentation is surprisingly elucidating.
We know that during the Bronze Age a number of civilisations around the eastern Mediterranean were using clay to write on. From Mesopotamian cuneiform to Linear A and B in the Aegean, people found that this reusable natural resource provided a vital tool for making records. But they didn’t all use it in the same way, and they didn’t all use the same implements or methods to write on it – instead traditions of writing display considerable regional differences, whether or not there might have been any influences from one place to another. Continue reading “What to write with? Styli for clay tablets in the ancient Aegean and eastern Mediterranean”
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.
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.
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!”
As a woman working on ancient epigraphy, I am ever aware of the great debt owed by everyone in my field to some outstanding female scholars of the past – women whose work paved the way for our understanding of ancient scripts today.
I will just mention two, in celebration of International Women’s Day:
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).
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)