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!
There’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!
Last term I wrote a review of the fantastic Cambridge Greek play, a tragedy/comedy double bill of Antigone and Lysistrata: now the production team have made some video highlights of both plays available online. Have a look at the video below!
…the game (which was the subject of an earlier blogpost) is featured in this week’s edition of ‘Coins Weekly‘ (despite not containing any coins). The English version is here and German version here. Just a reminder to say that I am happy to distribute copies free of charge to any teachers wishing to use it specifically for teaching purposes – please send me an email (‘apj31’, then the ‘at’ symbol, then ‘cam.ac.uk’) letting me know who you are and where/what you teach! (Unfortunately I can’t distribute it for any other purposes – please don’t email if you just want a copy to play as I’m afraid I will have to disappoint. But in that case, why not try making your own ancient version of Monopoly…)
Some more board-game-related news: next week I’m going to be helping out with an event in the Cambridge Festival of Ideas called “Esagil: Treasure Hunt in Babylon“. It’s a board game designed by Marie-Françoise Besnier, a researcher studying ancient Mesopotamia – here’s the event details and blurb:
Tuesday 25 October: 11:00am – 4:00pm
Wednesday 26 October: 11:00am – 4:00pm
Thursday 27 October: 11:00am – 4:00pm
Friday 28 October: 11:00am – 4:00pm
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Downing Street, CB2 3DZ
Discover ancient Babylon! Seek a treasure for the great god Marduk in the maze of the city. Every encounter may change your fate… Will the odds be in your favour?
“Esagil” is a game for 2-6 players aged 8+, which approximately lasts 20-25 min. It is set in the ancient city of Babylon (1st mill. BC). The aim is to make an offering to the main god of Babylon, Marduk, in his temple, called Esagil. The offerings are sacred objects, “treasures” (all real Mesopotamian objects). The players will seek them in one of the numerous temples of the city. The winner is the first to bring his offering back to the Esagil.
The search is determined by the “if- cards” which tell the players what their next step will be. The “if- cards” are based upon real Babylonian omens. All of them were introduced by the word shumma, “if”: they recorded all kinds of signs and events that could happen in everyday life, which were understood as messages from the gods, such as a black cat crossing the road or the fall of a meteorite. “Esagil” is thus a fun way to learn about ancient Babylonian culture, especially religion and divination.
Come along and have a go at playing it (no need to book)! The Festival of Ideas is going on until October 30th and has a huge range of other events – talks, activities, exhibitions, performances, and more – check out the full event listing here, there’s pretty much guaranteed to be something for everyone!
A brief note to share some exciting news from the Roman fort of Vindolanda (home of the famous writing tablets), where this year’s excavations have produced 421 Roman shoes, including children’s shoes and even baby boots! More details and some wonderful pictures on the Vindolanda blog.
Just a quick post with a few things I wanted to share for the start of term! Firstly, a couple of posts over on the Cambridge Classics graduate blog, Res Gerendae: some handy tips for new PhD students (mostly just as relevant to students in other universities!), and an exciting exhibition that’s currently on in the Faculty’s Cast Gallery (but finishing on October 15th). By the way, I encourage any readers who haven’t checked out Res Gerendae yet to do so – it has a lot of great posts on a huge range of topics, and I’m sure there are many more interesting posts to come this term! (Any new Cambridge classics grads reading this – I also encourage you to sign up to write for RG – see my previous post on why this is a useful and fun thing to do!) Continue reading “Some start-of-term news”