More Codebreakers and Groundbreakers

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A follow-up to yesterday’s post on the Fitzwilliam Museum’s new exhibition to add some information on the related exhibition also running at the Museum of Classical Archaeology (in the Faculty of Classics). This is showcasing two aspects of the Faculty related to the Fitz’s exhibition: our collections of archival material relating to excavations by the archaeologist Alan Wace at the palace of Mycenae (which uncovered a set of Linear B tablets), and the range of current linguistic-related research taking place in the Faculty. This includes work on Linear B in the Mycenaean Epigraphy Group (which I’m a part of); the CREWS project on relationships between other ancient writing systems; the Greek in Italy project, whose name is pretty self-explanatory; and the team working on a new ancient Greek lexicon (dictionary) – a project that was started by John Chadwick, Michael Ventris’ collaborator in publishing the decipherment. Like the Fitz, it’s free to enter, plus you get to see the wonderful collection of casts of classical statues as well!

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Codebreakers and Groundbreakers

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I mentioned this upcoming exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in my last post – I’m very pleased to say that ‘Codebreakers and Groundbreakers‘ is now open (and on until February 2018)! The exhibition brings together two apparently quite different stories – the discovery and decipherment of the Linear B tablets and the breaking of the Enigma codes at Bletchley Park during World War II – to emphasize the two main threads which connect them. Most obviously, both of them are about decipherment and making unreadable texts readable – whether that’s three-thousand-year-old clay tablets written in an undeciphered script and an unknown language, or messages that have been deliberately encrypted to (try to) stop them being read by a wartime enemy.

Continue reading “Codebreakers and Groundbreakers”

Start of term news: board games, exhibitions, and playing with clay!

It’s the beginning of term here in Cambridge, so time for meeting new students, organising teaching for the term, and generally filling up the diary. It also seems like a good time to share various upcoming events that Cambridge-based readers may be interested in, plus a piece of board-game-related news!

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Me writing a cuneiform tablet.

On October 21st, the Cambridge Archaeological Unit is hosting a ‘Prehistory and Archaeology Day’ (10.30-4pm, 34 Storey’s Way). There’ll be plenty of different activities to try out, from rock-art-painting to pottery-making – and of course, there’ll be several researchers from Classics and Archaeology there to teach people to write on clay in ancient scripts like Linear B, cuneiform, and Egyptian hieroglyphs! The event is free and there’s no need to book, just drop in — more information here. Continue reading “Start of term news: board games, exhibitions, and playing with clay!”

The Mystery of the Monks and the Medieval Porpoise

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?

Excavation of a new Mycenaean tomb

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:

via Major archaeological discovery near Orchomenos in Boeotia, central Greece

Book review, Variation within and among writing systems

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!

PhD thesis now online!

thesis front pageSpeaking 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!)