My name is Willemijn Waal and I have been lucky enough to be the first visiting fellow of the CREWS project, which is of course a great honour! Let me start out by briefly introducing myself. I am a Hittitologist/classicist working as a lecturer at Leiden University, at the department of Classics and Ancient Civilizations. My main research interests include the origins and materiality of writing and cross-cultural contacts between the Late Bronze Age Anatolia and the Aegean. I am further working on literacy and orality in the ancient world, in particular the links between classical and Near Eastern epic and literature.
For the third of our posts looking at the objects in the CREWS Display at the Fitzwilliam Museum, we’re going to turn our attention to probably the oldest item we have on display: this cuneiform tablet.
Welcome to the first in a series of posts on the objects taking part in our display at the Fitzwilliam Museum. You can read more about the setting up of the display, which is an exciting collaboration with the Fitzwilliam and the British Museum, in our previous post. The idea is to use a small set of objects from these museums (plus two replicas made by the CREWS team) to highlight what we are working on and to tell some of the stories behind writing in the ancient eastern Mediterranean.
One of the stars of the show is this limestone statuette base found in the remains of a religious complex at Idalion in Cyprus, known as the Idalion Bilingual, which is on loan from the British Museum for our display (you can see its BM listing HERE). This is inscribed with a dedication written in Phoenician (Phoenician consonantal alphabet) and Greek (Cypriot syllabic script). The Idalion Bilingual was the inscription that provided the vital key needed to decipher with Cypriot syllabic writing system, and is sometimes thought of as the ‘Rosetta stone’ of Cyprus. Continue reading “CREWS Display: The Idalion Bilingual”→
Did you know that Iberian and Cypriot scripts share the shapes of some signs? Although Iberian scripts do not really fall into the research of the CREWS project, they are fascinating and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to make them appear in our blog. In spite of the long distance between the Iberian peninsula and Cyprus, which were not directly connected in the 5th century BC (approximate date of the first written samples in Iberian), indeed, there are some signs both in Iberian and Cypriot scripts that have the same shape, but with different values. How was this possible?
Iberian inscription on lead from Ullastret.
The Bulwer tablet, with Cypriot syllabic writing. Trustees of the British Museum.
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…
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.
You can see what the Venetic alphabet looks like in the ‘inscription’ shown in Figure 1 – which is not in fact the original inscription but a delicious cake version of it baked by my colleague Dr Anna Judson for the seminar!
Figure 1. Venetic inscription cake, baked by Anna Judson – see more HERE.
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.
As promised, today’s post is going to deal with the first line of the CREWS logo. As some of you may already have observed, the first line is written in Linear B, which is one of several writing systems that will be studied as part of the CREWS project.
Linear B was the writing system used in the administration of the Mycenaean palaces of Crete and mainland Greece roughly between 1400 and 1200 BC. We call it Linear B because the archaeologist Arthur Evans gave it this label following his discoveries at the Cretan site of Knossos at the beginning of the 20th century, contrasting the abstract ‘linear’ nature of its signs with the more pictorial-looking earlier system that he labelled Cretan Hieroglyphic. There was another category, Linear A, which again applied to an earlier system but one that looked much more like Linear B.
Although it has stood the test of time, the label ‘Linear B’ is not very helpful except as a basic identifier of the writing system being referred to. Linear B is primarily a syllabic system, in which each of the core signs represents an open syllable (i.e. a vowel on its own such as a or i, or a consonant+vowel combination such as te or ku: a table of these core signs is shown in Figure 1). The language written in Linear B was the earliest surviving form of Greek, which we refer to as the Mycenaean Greek dialect.