Aegean scripts in the digital age: a guide to fonts

I quite often get asked about fonts to use for Linear B and the other related Aegean and Cypriot syllabic writing systems, and since I’ve just come across a couple of new (to me) options, I thought I’d share them all here for anyone else looking to write Linear B et al. in digital form! Tl; dr, it’s easier than you might expect to write Linear B on an electronic tablet instead of a clay one… (sorry, obligatory “tablet” joke). Read on for some options!

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How to make a clay tablet, part 1

As part of my research into writing practices in the Mycenaean palace of Pylos, I’m looking at how the clay tablets on which administrative documents were written in the Linear B script were made in the first place: after all, creating the object you’re going to write on is as crucial a part of the whole package of writing practices as actually doing the writing, even if we don’t know whether this was usually done by the writers themselves or by other tablet-makers. Earlier on I did some preliminary work preparing and trying out different clays, and now that I’ve been able to start examining the actual tablets in the National Archaeological Museum here in Athens, I’ve also started some more systematic experiments trying out different methods of tablet-making. I’ve just presented this work-in-progress at the European Association of Archaeologists‘ annual conference, so it seemed a good time to share it here as well!

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Temple Tales: Olympia and Eleusis in myth and reality

Logo of the European Archaeology Days, 18-20 June 2021

This weekend (18-20 June) is the European Archaeology Days, a Europe-wide celebration of all things archaeological. Here at the British School at Athens, my colleague Michael Loy and I have joined in by recording a podcast-style talk on the ancient Greek religious sites of Eleusis and Olympia. “Temple Tales: Olympia and Eleusis in myth and reality” explores the archaeology of these sites and the myths surrounding them, and asks how we can try to use both of these types of evidence together to understand more about what people did there and what they believed.

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Epigraphic baking: “I am the boundary stone of the Agora”

Content note: non-graphic mentions of blinding and the death of a young woman

On a recent visit to the Athenian Agora – the city centre of ancient Athens – I made sure to pay a visit to this stone, which, as its inscription declares, was one of the markers of the boundaries of the Agora: “ΗΟΡΟΣ ΕΙΜΙ ΤΕΣ ΑΓΟΡΑΣ” (“horos eimi tēs agoras”), “I am the boundary-stone of the Agora”. After this visit I decided to continue my epigraphic baking series by making a version in cake:

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Wax tablets in the ancient world

This post was written jointly with Cassie Donnelly, who is a PhD student in the Program for Aegean Scripts and Prehistory at the University of Texas at Austin, and who contributed the ancient Near Eastern sections.

Normally this blog is all about writing on clay tablets, but just for a change, today we’re going to look at ancient writing on a different kind of tablet. Tablets made of wood (or sometimes ivory) with a recess filled with wax were a common writing support in the ancient Mediterranean world – a sharp stylus made of wood, metal, or bone would be used to write in the wax, while if a mistake was made or the text was no longer needed, it could be erased using the other, flattened, end of the stylus. Tablets could be joined together in pairs (as in this picture) or larger sets in a kind of ‘book’.

Two-leafed wax tablet with stylus. Photo: Peter van der Sluijs, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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Women in Mycenaean Greece

Reconstruction of a wall-painting from Thebes. Five women dressed in elaborate, brightly-coloured ruffled skirts, open-fronted tops, and headdresses, walk in a procession, holding offerings such as flowers. Photo: George E. Koronaios, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The wall-painting shown above, reconstructed from fragments found on the Mycenaean citadel of Thebes and dating from the Late Bronze Age (late second millennium BCE), shows a group of elaborately-dressed women taking part in a ritual procession: each holds an offering – a box, a bunch of flowers – in her hands, presumably to offer to the deity (goddess?) in whose honour this ritual celebration took place. But what do we actually know about the lives of women in Thebes and other parts of Mycenaean Greece – whether the elite who would have taken part in events like the one shown in this painting, or those lower down the social scale? For International Women’s Day today (March 8th), I’d like to look at some of the evidence we can use to try and reconstruct the activities of Mycenaean women.

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#WCCWiki in Athens

View of the Acropolis in Athens

Since moving to Athens, I’ve been continuing to be involved with the UK Women’s Classical Committee‘s #WCCWiki project, which aims to improve the representation of women in Classics, archaeology, and related fields on the world’s largest reference site, only 18% of whose biographical pages are of women. I decided to spend my first few editing sessions here focusing on Greek women working in archaeology in Greece – in both English Wikipedia and in English-language scholarship on the history of archaeology, I think there’s been a lot more written about women from the UK and USA who worked in Greece, usually via the British School at Athens or American School of Classics Studies at Athens, than there has about Greek women archaeologists. I just had a quick look at the two main online projects I know of on the history of women in archaeology: the ‘Breaking Ground: Women in Old World Archaeology‘ and ‘Trowelblazers‘ sites between them have just one biography of a Greek woman (Semni Karouzou, about whom more shortly). This is not to single out those sites for particular criticism, but just to illustrate the general situation, which is probably due to a combination of language issues – sources in Greek are less likely to be read by Anglophone scholars (or Wikipedia editors for that matter) – with the rather problematic relationship Anglophone Classics as a field has with modern, as opposed to ancient, Greece (of course, these two issues are closely related, as this article by Johanna Hanink makes clear). The main exception I’m aware of is the work of Dimitra Kokkinidou and Marianna Nikolaidou, whose fantastic chapter ‘Greek women in archaeology: an untold story’ in Excavating Women: A History of Women in European Archaeology has been a really useful source, and whose other publications on Greek women archaeologists and the history of Greek archaeology more generally are on my to-read list.

Anyway, I thought that working on some pages for historical and current Greek women archaeologists would both help make information about them more available in English and be good practice for me in reading modern Greek sources! I’d like to share here some information about a few of the women whose pages I’ve been working on or are on my list to edit:

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Virtually visiting the Archaeological Museum of Thebes

The Archaeological Museum of Thebes reopened a few years ago after a long period of closure for renovations. My only previous visit to Thebes was during that closure, so visiting to see the new galleries has been on my wishlist for a while now. Obviously that’s not possible at the moment, since museums are closed and travelling around Greece isn’t allowed, but happily I just found that the museum has a virtual tour and lots of other online resources – so I’ve been on a virtual visit to its Mycenaean gallery.

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Playing with (real) clay

“Clay play day” was a pretty regular feature of my time as a researcher in Cambridge – we’d get some modelling clay and try making and writing tablets in various ancient writing systems, or run activities for school students and families to do the same. As part of my new research project in Athens, I’m aiming to do a more systematic version of this, working in the Fitch Laboratory with researchers who are experienced in experimental work with ceramics, to understand more about how the Linear B tablets were made. The Fitch provided samples of a few clays of different levels of fineness/coarseness for me to try out, so the first stage was to prepare them to work with. Recipe: break up dry clay with a pestle and mortar, put in beaker, add water, stir. Wait for several days, realise you’ve put far too much water in, pour a lot of it out, wait several more days. After that, I finally had four different clays ready to play with.

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Formatting Bronze Age Tablets

Today’s new issue of ‘Archaeology’ magazine has a short piece based on my recent article on how Linear B scribes edited their documents, called “Formatting Bronze Age Tablets” – you can check it out here! For more on this topic, see also my previous post about the article, which is also available open-access here.

Screenshot of article entitled "Formatting Bronze Age Tablets", by Daniel Weiss, showing large picture of front and back of clay Linear B tablet