More news on the Vindolanda writing tablets

I recently shared news of a newly-discovered writing tablet from the Roman fort of Vindolanda: now the excavation team have released a press release and it turns out they’ve found a whole cache of 25 tablets, all written in ink, some of which they’ve already been able to (partly) read. More information will have to wait until the tablets have been conserved and photographed, but for now here’s the press releasehere’s the press release (with some nice photographs!)

School visits to the Faculty of Classics

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For any teachers who might be readers of this blog, the Faculty is taking bookings now for school visits during the next academic year – groups of Key Stages 3-5 students from maintained schools can visit the Museum of Classical Archaeology, listen to a talk by a Classics lecturer, and tour a college, plus there’s a free lunch on offer! (and help with travel expenses is available too). Students don’t have to be studying any particular topics, just to be interested in learning more about the ancient world.

Check out the Faculty’s outreach site here, and if you’re a teacher interested in bringing your students, talk to our outreach co-ordinator Jennie Thornber (jlt39 [a] cam.ac.uk; 01223 767044).

A new writing tablet from Vindolanda!

The Vindolanda Trust has tweeted this picture of a writing tablet found yesterday in the current excavations at the Roman fort:

The tablet looks beautifully well preserved – in the picture you can clearly see the indentation in the middle which would have held the wax for writing on (unlike most of the tablets found at Vindolanda, which were written in ink). We’ll presumably have to wait until the tablet is cleaned and conserved to find out whether there are any traces of writing preserved on the wood – which happens when the stylus went right through the wax and scratched the wood underneath – and whether they’re at all readable (as some of the stylus tablets found in London have been). Fingers crossed…

Frescoes in the Roman Catacombs

A couple of days ago we had some exciting news about new Roman finds in Britain; now here’s some even more exciting archaeology news from Rome itself. Frescoes in the Catacombs of Domitilla, just outside the city, have been restored to show images and inscriptions which provide new evidence for life in Rome in the 3rd-4th centuries CE – from the organisation of the communal corn dole to the role of Christianity in the city at this period – plus graffiti left by the catacombs’ first excavators in the 17th century. Details and some nice pictures here. This is definitely going on my list of things to see in Rome!

Roman baths discovered in Carlisle

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Archaeologist Kevin Mounsey holds a Roman water pipe (from the News & Star)

Some exciting news from the north of England – the remains of a Roman bathhouse have been found underneath a cricket pavilion in the city of Carlisle. The baths are thought to be associated with a nearby fort on Hadrian’s Wall. Here‘s the BBC report, and the local News & Star paper has more details and pictures here (including the one on the right, featuring the archaeologist in charge of the dig holding a rather nice Roman water pipe). Hopefully the site will be open to visitors in the future!

Sensational new Linear B tablet discovery in Athens

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Linear B tablet (replica)

Archaeologists working on a rescue excavation in Athens city centre have just announced the discovery of a series of clay tablets inscribed in the Linear B script, the first to be found in the city. The tablets date from the end of the Bronze Age, c.1200 BCE, and provide exciting new evidence for ritual practices in Mycenaean Greece. According to the excavation director, Professor Ilithios Apriliou, the texts refer to a ritual taking place on the first day of the month Apate, tentatively identified as the fourth month of the Mycenaean year. Participants in the ritual are recorded as receiving varying quantities of barley, while other tablets list offerings of wine and olive oil to the god Hermes (Hermahas in Mycenaean Greek). The most enigmatic of the tablets appears to act as an introduction to the whole series; while much of its text is currently obscure, Prof. Apriliou believes it describes a part of the ritual in which participants compete to tell the most outrageous stories in honour of the trickster god Hermes. The tablet is, however, badly damaged, and this interpretation relies heavily on Prof. Apriliou’s suggested restorations; an alternative reading, in which the festival is simply opened by a council of elders, is equally possible, and only close further study – and, it is to be hoped, further discoveries of tablets – will reveal the true nature of this mysterious ancient celebration.

Update: some helpful explanations (and a few more classical news items from April 1st) here!

“Tails from Mycenae”

2017-03-14 16.41.01There’s a nice temporary display that’s just gone up in the Museum of Classical Archaeology here in the Faculty, called “Tails from Mycenae” – it’s a case displaying various different depictions of animals on Mycenaean artefacts (i.e. from late Bronze Age Greece, c. the 16th-13th centuries BCE), put together by four current Classics undergradutes (Katie Phillips, Caroline Clements, Georgia Lowe and Anya Morrice). It’s nice to see such a range of different kinds of artefacts even in one small case – from pottery fragments and figurines to (replicas of) daggers and golden disks, plus of course Linear B tablets (I helped out a bit by providing a transcription of a tablet listing sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle). It’s also a good chance to see stuff that isn’t usually on public display at all in the Faculty – most of what you see in the museum is casts of statues, but as this case shows, the collection is actually quite a bit more diverse than that!

Cambridge readers can head to the Museum to see the display (free admission, Mon-Fri 10-5, Sat 10-1 during term time) – and by the way, this is also an excellent excuse to look around the rest of the Museum if you haven’t seen it before! For non-Cambridge readers, there’s a couple more pictures of the display below. And thanks to Katie, Caroline, Georgia, and Anya for putting the whole thing together!