This might sound like the set-up for a bizarre crime novel set in the medieval period, but it’s entirely non-fictional: this week’s UK archaeology news is that archaeologists excavating a medieval religious site on a tidal island called Chapelle Dom Hue, just off Guernsey, found what was clearly a grave cut into the ground — and excavated it to find, not the remains of a monk who might have lived on the island, but the skeleton of a porpoise:
As you can imagine, the archaeologists are feeling pretty perplexed right now – was this porpoise actually buried for some kind of religious reason, or for the more mundane purpose of preserving it in salt to eat later? Personally, I like the suggestion given in this article that it’s “possible that a monk hid the body of the porpoise because he was not supposed to have it” – I can just see some poor medieval monk who’s sick and tired of living off bread and water sneaking out in the middle of the night to make a secret food cache. Hopefully further excavation and analysis of the bones might tell us some more, but in the meantime, what’s your theory about the Mysterious Medieval Porpoise?
An international team of archaeologists including several Cambridge staff and students have just announced the discovery and excavation of one of the largest and best preserved Mycenaean chamber tombs ever found in mainland Greece. There’s a full report and some great pictures here:
I’ve just gotten back to Cambridge from a trip to Nagoya, Japan, to attend a conference hosted by the Association for Written Language and Literacy – a group of researchers interested in studying writing in a huge range of different languages and scripts. The conference’s theme – ‘Writing systems: past, present (…and future?)’ – was what initially attracted me: as a classicist working on three-thousand-year-old writing system, I figured I could fit in with the ‘past’ part of the theme, and it would be an interesting opportunity to hear from researchers studying different (and more modern!) writing systems. (Not to mention an opportunity to visit Japan for the first time!)
As it turned out, the range of topics in the presentations was even wider than I’d expected – not only did languages and writing systems under discussion range from the origins of writing in ancient Mesopotamia to the contemporary Japanese use of emoji (by way of Chinese, Korean, Hebrew, Hindi, early modern English, Catalan, minority languages in West Africa and Malaysia, and plenty more), but as well as linguists many of the presenters were psychologists working on the cognitive processes involved in reading and writing, which gave me a really fascinating new perspective – for obvious reasons experimental pscyhology doesn’t really come into classical linguistics much!
The ‘past’ part of the conference theme ended up being represented pretty strongly by Cambridge – I was talking about historical developments in the Linear B writing system and how these can be better understood by looking at contemporary variations in spelling, and my colleagues Rob and Natalia from the CREWS Project were talking about how the ancient Semitic language Punic represented vowels in writing and typologies of different types of writing system around the ancient Mediterranean, respectively (they’ll probably be writing their own blog post about the conference sometime soon!) It was the first time any of us had attended an AWLL conference but I think I can say for all of us that we’re already very much looking forward to the next one!
If you’re interested in the work of the AWLL, there’s information about joining the association and/or signing up for their newsletter on the website, or you can follow them on Facebook.
I’m away at the moment to attend a conference (more on that soon…) so this is just a quick post to say that a book review of mine has just appeared on the Bryn Mawr Classical Review. It’s of a volume entitled “Variation within and among Writing Systems: Concepts and Methods in the Analysis of Ancient Written Documents”, edited by Paola Cotticelli-Kurras and Alfredo Rizza – check it out here!
Speaking of publications that have appeared recently, the PhD thesis I completed last year is now available online! It’s titled ‘The Undeciphered Signs of Linear B’ and is a study of the 14 Linear B syllabic signs (out of 87) whose sound-values are still uncertain. Spoiler alert: by the end of the thesis, they generally aren’t going to be any more undeciphered than they currently are – but (hopefully) I’ve made some progress in understanding how they fit into the script as a whole and their possible values, as well as using them in a case-study to look at how palaeography (the study of the form of script signs, especially as used by different scribes) can be used to talk about wider issues such as how scribes were trained or what the date(s) of the Linear B documents are. Interested readers can find the thesis (plus supplementary catalogues) on the Cambridge University Repository or my Academia.edu page.
Also, as a bonus, check out this excellent article entitled ‘Classicists Name Their Pets‘ (does exactly what it says on the tin, with cute pictures!)
I’m very pleased to announce the publication of a conference held here in Cambridge a couple of years ago on ‘Understanding Relations Between Scripts: The Aegean Writing Systems’. It’s edited by my colleague Pippa Steele, and features chapters on a wide range of topics relating to the writing systems used in prehistoric Crete (Cretan Hieroglyphic, Linear A, and Linear B) and Cyprus (Cypro-Minoan, Cypriot Syllabic). I have a chapter in it looking at various issues to do with the development of the Linear B script; equally importantly, there’s a picture of the conference cake I made!
For fans of reconstructions of ancient music, here’s a post by a friend about a recent reconstruction of an ancient Greek tragic chorus – complete with a link to a podcast of the piece’s first performance!
Greek Tragedies were as much musical as theatrical performances. Much of the text uttered by the Chorus, and some by individual characters as well, was sung. The ancient tragedians were as much composers as writers, creating both the texts and the musical settings. Indeed, in Aristophanes’ Frogs, when the ghosts of Aeschylus and Euripides fight […]