New Linear B tablets from Pylos

Entrance of the palace of Pylos, with ‘Archives Complex’ to left

I’m pleased to announce the publication of an article I co-wrote with John Bennet of the British School at Athens and Jack L. Davis and Sharon R. Stocker of the University of Cincinnati, publishing two fragments of Linear B tablets discovered during the Cincinnati excavations at Pylos in 2017. The article, published in the journal Kadmos, is available here (with subscription), or you can request a copy of the pre-print via the Cambridge University repository. The two tablets are very fragmentary, but they have some interesting features – including a new example of one of the undeciphered signs I wrote my PhD on, which was pretty exciting for me (though, to manage expectations, it unfortunately doesn’t help make any progress in deciphering it). There’s also a mysterious third object with markings that don’t appear to be Linear B, or indeed any other writing system we can identify, but we’ve included it in case anyone else can come up with any suggestions!

Reference: Anna P. Judson, John Bennet, Jack L. Davis, and Sharon R. Stocker, ‘Two new Linear B tablets and an enigmatic find from Bronze Age Pylos (Palace of Nestor)’, Kadmos 58 (2019), pp.111-123.

Spotlight talk on ‘Mycenopoly’

I’ve done a spotlight talk about my Mycenaean board game ‘Mycenopoly‘ for an upcoming event on research dissemination for early-career researchers organised by the Women’s Classical Committee UK (full disclosure, I am one of the organisers!). You can watch it here (it’s 6 minutes long; there are captions).

I encourage you to check out the other spotlight talks too – there are three other fantastic talks on using research into human-animal interactions in antiquity while volunteering in zoos; 18th-century British painter Angelica Kaufmann’s use of classical antiquity; and a project for researchers of ancient gender and sexuality in Brazil. You can find all of them in this YouTube playlist.

(NB: the event is currently fully booked, but there is a waiting list in operation: see here for details. Most of the talks on publishing and disseminating your research are pre-recorded and available on YouTube here).

Depicting writing

A great post from Pippa Steele about depictions of writing in the ancient world!

The overwhelming tendency to talk about writing systems as linguistic codes (which they usually are in some sense) has often ignored other important aspects of writing. For instance, one way way we can study writing is as a practice or action, because writing is a thing you do. At CREWS we have been particularly interested […]

via Depicting writing —

New Humanities Commons page for open-access publications

HCommons

I have a new page on Humanities Commons, a free, not-for-profit site for sharing open-access research. Publications available there already include papers on a set of Linear B inscriptions painted on the side of jars used for transporting oil or wine; on the Mycenaean Greek word for “labyrinth”; on the structure and use of the Linear B writing system, and how this can be used to analyse the script’s development over time; on using palaeography (handwriting analysis) to reconstruct aspects of scribal practices and training; and on how Linear B was originally deciphered and shown to represent an early form of the Greek language. Head over to https://hcommons.org/members/annapjudson/ to check them out!

Spelling and script development

wll.22.2.pb_An article of mine has recently appeared in the journal Written Language and Literacy, in a special issue arising from the Association of Written Language and Literacy‘s 2017 conference in Nagoya, Japan. The conference theme was ‘Writing Systems: Past, Present (…and Future?)’, which I took as an opportunity to explore how we can use spelling variation in the Linear B texts to think about the development of the writing system over time – the paper is in some ways an extension of my previous work on the Linear B ‘extra’ signs and what they tell us about the writing system’s creation and use, but also incorporates my more recent research into the writing practices of the scribes at the Mycenaean palace of Pylos, focusing in particular on orthographic variation (full details below).

The issue, which also features papers on Punic (by my colleague Robert Crellin), Korean, Japanese, and the Bornean language Berawan, is available online here for those with a subscription to WLL, or the pre-print version is freely available here.

Continue reading “Spelling and script development”

Next stop, Athens…

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Sunset view of the Acropolis from Mt Lykavittos

I’m delighted to be able to share some exciting news about the next stage of my research into Linear B and the Mycenaean scribes – after my current postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge comes to an end in the autumn, I’ll be moving to the British School in Athens on a two-year Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship. These EU fellowships are designed to promote movement to and around Europe by postdoctoral researchers so they can go to whatever institution is best placed to support their research – I’m thrilled to be able to benefit from the vast range of knowledge and experience at the BSA, in particular that of Mycenaean archaeologist and Linear B specialist Professor John Bennet, who will act as my research mentor, and of members of the Fitch Laboratory, with whom I plan to collaborate. I’m equally excited, of course, at the prospect of spending two years living and working in Athens!

Tripod tablet
Linear B tablet from Pylos listing tripods and other ceremonial vessels

Continue reading “Next stop, Athens…”

Women’s writing in the ancient world

Although most of the literature that we have from the ancient Mediterranean and Near East was written by men, we do also have compositions by women – most famously the Greek poet Sappho, as well as other Greek and Roman poets (e.g. Corinna, Nossis, and Sulpicia: for more, see this list of ancient women authors); an ancient Mesopotamian priestess called Enheduanna, who lived in the 23rd century BCE, is often referred to as the first known author in history (although at least some of the hymns attributed to her actually seem to have been composed several centuries later). Similarly, most of the inscriptions that actually survive – including letters, archival documents, grave markers, public or legal texts, and religious dedications – will have been both commissioned and physically written/inscribed by men; even in cases where the text makes it clear that a woman is ultimately responsible for it, it is not necessarily the case that she actually wrote it (e.g. stone inscriptions would be carved by specialist craftspeople, probably men; letters were frequently dictated to scribes, mostly ditto). But we do have some ancient texts which show evidence of literate women actually engaging in the practice of writing, and it’s those – or at least a small selection of them – that I’d like to look at for this International Women’s Day post.

The most famous example from the Roman world comes from Roman Britain, specifically from the fort of Vindolanda near Hadrian’s Wall, where a large number of  wooden writing tablets, with letters and administrative documents written in ink, have been found, mostly from around 100 CE. Amongst them is this letter, sent by a woman called Claudia Severa – the wife of an officer at another fort – to her friend Sulpicia Lepidina, the wife of the commander at Vindolanda, to invite her to a birthday party:

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Vindolanda Tablet 291. Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Continue reading “Women’s writing in the ancient world”

‘The mystery of the Mycenaean “labyrinth”‘ now available online

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Labyrinth on the back of a Linear B tablet from Pylos (National Archaeological Museum [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia)
My paper ‘The mystery of the Mycenaean “labryinth”: the value of Linear B pu2 and related signs” is now freely available online – copies can be downloaded via the Cambridge University open access repository (no institutional account or login required), or via academia.edu. The paper (published in Studi micenei ed egeo-anatolici in 2017) looks at the Mycenaean word identified as meaning ‘labyrinth’, and discusses how investigating the spelling of this particular word also has important implications for how we understand the Linear B writing system to work in its representation of the Mycenaean Greek dialect, as well as on attempts to reconstruct aspects of the ‘Minoan’ language which Linear B’s predecessor, Linear A, was used to write. You can read more about this article here, and about the mythical labyrinth – and the drawing of a labyrinth on the back of a Linear B tablet from Pylos shown in the photograph – here.

Abstract:

This article re-examines the evidence for the value of the Linear B sign pu₂, in particular its appearance in the term da-pu₂-ri-to- ‘labyrinth’, and demonstrates that it stands specifically for the value /pʰu/ (contrary to the usual assumption that it represents both /pʰu/ and /bu/). It then discusses the further implications of this conclusion, in particular for the interpretation of the undeciphered signs *56 and *22, which are often assigned to the same series as pu₂, as well as any other similar signs which may exist. This discussion illustrates the crucial impact that establishing a single sign’s value may have on the wider understanding of the Linear B script, as well as on its relationship with its parent script Linear A and even the possibility of reconstructing aspects of the Minoan language.

Citation: Anna P. Judson, ‘The mystery of the Mycenaean “labyrinth”: the value of Linear B pu₂ and related signs”, Studi micenei ed egeo-anatolici NS 3: 53-72 (2017)

Queries about Quadrupeds in Linear B

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Linear B tablet from Knossos listing a group of sheep, goats, cattle and pigs (KN Co 907; on display at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum)

Last month I was teaching some classes on interpreting the texts of the administrative Linear B tablets from Late Bronze Age (‘Mycenaean’) Greece, and one of the texts we looked at read as follows:

‘Kerowos the shepherd (poimēn) at A-si-ja-ti-ja watching over the quadrupeds (kwetropopphi) of Thalamatās: 1 man’   (Pylos Ae 134)

In some ways, this is nice and straightforward by Linear B standards: we can linguistically interpret pretty much every word (and even where we can’t, their meaning is clear from context and other examples of the same – a-si-ja-ti-ja is evidently a place-name) and produce a translation of the whole sentence (there are some linguistic quibbles over exactly how the syntax works, but it doesn’t really affect the overall meaning). In other ways, it’s entirely characteristic of Linear B in that it’s so laconic that translating it produces as many questions as it answers. In particular, the question my students asked was ‘So what kind of animals are these quadrupeds?’- ‘quadrupeds’ being a literal translation of kwetro-popphi ‘four-footed [things]’ (in later Greek, tetrapous). I realized when they asked this that I simply didn’t know, and in fact had never really thought about it – so I decided to look into it. Continue reading “Queries about Quadrupeds in Linear B”

Troy: Myth and Reality – review

Following on from my visit to the Ashmolean’s ‘Last Supper at Pompeii’ exhibition over Christmas, just before term started I headed to the British Museum’s exhibition on ‘Troy: Myth and Reality‘ (on until March 8th). The entrance sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition by pairing ancient artefacts – a classical vase showing Achilles killing the Amazon Penthesilea, and a pot found at the site of the real Troy (Hisarlik, Turkey) – with modern artworks inspired by the story of the Trojan War, including this set of ceramic and concrete sculptures which to me were a very evocative depiction of the brutality and dehumanisation involved in much of this story.

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‘The Death of Hector’, ‘King Priam’, and ‘The Skaian Gate’, from Anthony Caro’s ‘Trojan War’ sculptures

Continue reading “Troy: Myth and Reality – review”