Learning to spell in Linear B

Screenshot of Cambridge University Press website for the Cambridge Classical Journal, showing title "Learning to spell in Linear B: orthography and scribal training in Mycenaean Pylos" and beginning of abstract

My article on how Mycenaean scribes at the palace of Pylos learned to spell in the Linear B writing system has now been published in the Cambridge Classical Journal via ‘First View’ – i.e. it’s published online in advance of the print issue which should be out later this year. “Learning to spell in Linear B: orthography and scribal training in Mycenaean Pylos” is freely available to read and download (thanks to my EU Marie-Skłodowska Curie funding which enabled it to be published gold open access), and you can also read my previous blog posts giving some background on Linear B spelling (and how it’s surprisingly similar in some ways to the syllabary used to write the Native American language Cherokee!) and summarising my article. Questions and comments welcome below!

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 885977.

International Women’s Day 2022: Women archaeologists on Wikipedia

Wikipedia logo

For this year’s International Women’s Day, I’d like to share some of the women archaeologists whose Wikipedia pages I’ve been working on recently as part of the Women’s Classical Committee’s #WCCWiki editing project. We edit pages and create new ones to improve the representation of women and non-binary people in classics, archaeology, and ancient history on Wikipedia – since this is one of the most-visited websites in existence, having a (good) page makes a huge difference in how visible a subject is online, but Wikipedia unfortunately is subject to all the same biases as the rest of the world when it comes to gender balance. For some data on how #WCCWiki is making a difference, see this post: in 2016, before the project’s foundation, just 7% of articles about classicists were about women; now it’s up to 18% (so a vast improvement, but still a long way to go…).

Evi Stasinopoulou-Touloupa (via Wikipedia)

Last year I wrote about some Greek archaeologists I was focusing on during my time in Greece, since another bias that plays into English-language writing about archaeology in Greece is a tendency to focus more on some of the English and American archaeologists working there rather than the Greeks. I’ve been carrying on with that theme, so when the archaeologist and curator Evi Stasinopoulou-Touloupa (Έβη Στασινοπούλου-Τουλούπα) passed away in October 2021, I created a page for her.

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Spelling B: how did Mycenaean scribes learn to spell in Linear B?

Rectangular tablet oriented horizontally with four lines of Linear B writing, and a small wooden stylus beneath it
Replica of a Linear B tablet from Pylos recording religious offerings of grain, and replica stylus. Tablet made by me, stylus by Philip Boyes

In my last post I wrote about the apparent ‘problems’ in how the prehistoric Linear B script is used to write the Mycenaean Greek language, and how these are actually not ‘problems’ at all, but a compromise between accurate representation of the language and economy in the number of different signs in the writing signs – as demonstrated by the use of very similar orthographic strategies in how the modern Cherokee syllabary represents the Cherokee language. Today I want to look in more detail at how Mycenaean writers actually used the Linear B orthographic system, and what this can tell us about both their attitudes towards ‘correct’ spelling and the way(s) in which they were taught to spell in the first place.

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A tale of two scripts: Linear B and Cherokee

The writing system used for the Native American language Cherokee (ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ‎ Tsalagi Gawonihisdi) was invented by a Cherokee man called Sequoyah (ᏍᏏᏉᏯ Ssiquoya), a silversmith by profession, between c.1809-1821. It’s a syllabary of 85 signs, each standing for a syllable consisting of a vowel or a consonant plus a vowel, which was rapidly adopted by the Cherokee after its invention and is still in use today (the Cherokee language is endangered, with only c.2,000 first-language speakers, but the Cherokee Nation is working to promote the learning of both the language and the syllabary). The story of how Sequoyah invented this writing system is a fascinating one in its own right, but also surprisingly relevant to the study of the Bronze Age Greek syllabary Linear B – read on to find out why!

Cherokee Syllabary chart (Mattie.walkerr, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
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A Mycenaean octopus – in cross-stitch

Happy New Year/Καλή Χρονία to all my readers! Just a quick post to share my recent craft project: over the holidays, I’ve been combining my hobby of cross-stitching with my love of the octopuses that are a frequent decoration of vases from prehistoric Greece, ranging from the elaborate to the cartoonish, as you can see in these photos of vases in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

My absolute favourite is this worried-looking little fellow in Heraklion, found near the palace of Knossos on Crete and dating to 1300-1200 BCE, so it was him that I picked to make and sew a cross-stitch pattern: here he is in ceramic and cross-stitch form!

If any other cross-stitching octopus fans are reading this, you can download my pattern below: why not have a go yourself at the sampler above, or do it in any other colours you feel like (a neon octopus would be fun!)? If you do, please send me a photo of the result!

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 885977.

A tour of Mycenaean Tiryns

The Mycenaean palace of Tiryns (Τίρυνθα), located in the Argolid between Argos and Nafplio, has been known since ancient times for its impressive fortifications, made of stones so large they were said to have been built by the Cyclopes. It’s a site well worth visiting if you’re in the area, and after a recent trip there, I thought I’d share some photos and information here as a virtual tour.

Photograph of tall stone fortification wall, with river bed to left and blocks of stone on ground in front
Panoramic view of the fortifications of Tiryns from near the north end of the lower citadel; the upper citadel is to the right
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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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