A new (neon) gatehouse for Housesteads Roman Fort

One of the first things a classicist does after moving to Durham is, obviously, to pay a visit to Hadrian’s Wall: the wall begun by the Roman emperor Hadrian in 122 CE to mark the northern frontier of the Roman empire in Britain, whihc now runs across Cumbria and Northumberland. Housesteads is one of several forts along the wall that can be visited today – in fact, the best preserved of the forts, with remains of the four gateways, commander’s house, soldiers’ barracks, the hospital, granaries, and the famous toilets. Of course, in Roman archaeology, ‘best preserved’ still generally means a series of low stone walls marking the outlines of the buildings. Right now, though, Housesteads is looking a bit different – and more colourful – than usual:

In the foreground, the remains of a granary: a low rectangular wall of grey stone with short stone pillars covering the floor on the inside. In the background, a large, colourful structure with two arched doorways in the middle and towers with pointed roofs on either side, made up of multiple neon-coloured panels with symbols and text on them
Housesteads: granary and gatehouse
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A tour of Mycenaean Thebes

Banners on the wall of the Archaeological Museum of Thebes, showing finds including statues, a fresco, and the name Thebes in Linear B

Last (for now!) in my series of virtual tours of Mycenaean sites, following Tiryns and Mycenae in the north-east Peloponnese, is this tour of Thebes in Boeotia, north-west of Athens (Myceanean te-qa Thēgwai, classical Greek Θῆβαι Thēbai, modern Greek Θήβα Thiva).

This one is a bit different from the last two, because unlike most other Mycenaean palatial sites we know, the citadel of Thebes has been continuously occupied from the Bronze Age to the present day – so the central area of the Mycenaean site corresponds more or less exactly to the modern town centre. Evidently, this makes excavation a challenge; much of the work that’s been done has been rescue excavations before construction work, so relatively few of the excavated areas remain visible, and because excavations have taken place in lots of separate, mostly unconnected sites, it’s very hard to get a joined-up picture of the Mycenaean citadel as a whole. Below is a Google map of locations mentioned in this post; this interactive map, the product of Dr Anastasia Dakouri-Hild’s ‘Digital Thebes’ project’, is also handy for seeing where excavations have taken place even where the results are not visible (you can choose various layers to show finds from different time-periods, including plans of buildings which may be associated with the Mycenaean (Late Helladic) palace and findspots of ‘palatial’-type objects such as Linear B inscriptions, frescoes, and craft workshops).

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A tour of Mycenae

Following on from last year’s virtual tour of the Mycenaean site of Tiryns, now it’s the turn of the site after which the “Mycenaean” societies of Late Bronze Age Greece are named – Mycenae (ancient Greek Μυκήναι, modern Greek Μυκήνες Mikines). This impressive fortified citadel is only about 20km from Tiryns, which was probably a subordinate/secondary site to Mycenae (although the exact relationship between the two is disputed), so if travelling by car the two can easily be done in one trip. Read on for the tour!

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How to make your own Linear B tablet / πως να φτιάξετε τη δική σας πινακίδα σε Γραμμική Β

Everyone enjoys playing with clay, and now you can make and write your own Linear B tablet thanks to this video and worksheet based on my research into how these clay tablets were made in the Mycenaean palace of Pylos c.1200 BCE. This activity is suitable for use with school students, at home with your own children, or by anyone who feels like getting some clay and having a go! In the 12min-long video, I talk about what these tablets were used for, why knowing how they were made is important, and how experimental archaeology can help us answer that question, as well as demonstrating some different ways the tablets were made, which you and your students/children can then try out. The worksheet then explains how to write on your tablet in the Linear B script, as well as giving some extra information and prompts for discussion for use in running this activity. The worksheet is available in both English and Greek, and the video is in English with subtitles in both languages. Enjoy!

Σε όλους αρέσει να παίζουν με τον πηλό, και τώρα μπορείτε να φτιάξετε και να γράψετε τη δική σας πινακίδα σε Γραμμική Β! Ορίστε ένα βίντεο και ασκήσεις που βασίζονται στην έρευνά μου για το πως φτιάχτηκαν αυτές οι πινακίδες στο μυκηναϊκό ανάκτορο της Πύλου περίπου το 1200 π.Χ. Αυτή η δραστηριότητα είναι κατάλληλη για μαθήτες στα σχολεία, για τα παιδιά σας στο σπίτι, και για όποιον θέλει να την δοκιμάσει! Στο βίντεο (12 λεπτά) μιλώ για τις χρήσεις αυτών των πινακίδων, γιατί είναι σημαντικό να ξέρουμε πώς φτιάχτηκαν, και πώς η πειραματική αρχαιολογία μπορεί να μας βοηθήσει να το καταλάβουμε αυτό. Δείχνω επίσης διάφορες μεθόδους για την κατασκευή των πινακίδων, τις όποιες εσείς και οι μαθητές ή τα παιδιά σας μπορούν να δοκιμάσουν. Οι ασκήσεις θα βοηθήσουν τους μαθητές ή τα παιδιά να γράψουν στις πινακίδες τους σε Γραμμική Β, και έχουν επίσης πληροφορίες για τους καθηγητές ή τους γονείς. Το βίντεο είναι στα αγγλικά με αγγλικούς και ελληνικούς υπότιτλους, και οι ασκήσεις διατίθενται στα αγγλικά και στα ελληνικά (και τα δύο είναι επαγγελματικά μεταφρασμένα).     

Have fun/καλή διασκέδαση!

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.

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 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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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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