The ‘oldest text of the Odyssey’?

Image via BBC

There’s been a lot of media excitement in the last few days over the discovery of a clay tablet at the ancient Greek sanctuary of Olympia (home of the original Olympic Games), with 13 lines of the ‘Odyssey’ inscribed on it. It’s certainly a very nice find – unlike in the Late Bronze Age period that I study, inscriptions of any kind on clay tablets are unusual at this point (the 3rd century CE, when Greece was part of the Roman Empire) – though it’s fair to say that most of the excitement has been due to the Homeric text and particularly to the claim that this is the oldest text of any part of the Odyssey. As plenty of other Classicists have been quick to point out, this isn’t actually true – there are plenty of earlier texts of (parts of) the Odyssey, e.g. on papyri from Egypt, and the oldest known example is an inscription on a potsherd from Olbia, modern Ukraine, dating to the 5th century BCE. This is just a quick post to provide some helpful links for anyone wanting to know more about this find:

Here is the original press release from the Greek Ministry of Culture (in Greek).

Here is a blogpost by ‘The Philological Crocodile’ correcting some of the errors that have appeared in a lot of the media reports, and speculating that the inscription could be a votive offering by a rhapsode (a reciter of the Homeric poems).

Here is a very detailed blogpost by ‘Kiwi Hellenist’ with a transcription and annotated photograph, as well as lots more details and a round-up of some of the news stories.


‘Processes of script adaptation and creation in Linear B’ now available online

2017-07-29 17.14.09 Last year saw the publication of the first ‘Understanding Relations Between Scripts‘ conference, which focused on the Aegean and Cypriot writing systems – I’m now pleased to be able to make the pre-print of my chapter, ‘Processes of script adaptation and creation in Linear B: the evidence of the “extra” signs’, available online. In it I talk about the group of Linear B signs which can be used to replace some of the syllabary’s ‘core’ signs in certain circumstances – for instance, the writing system doesn’t normally represent the sound /h/, so the core sign a could represent either /a/ or /ha/, but there’s an extra sign a2 that can used specifically for /ha/. I look at the wide range of different reasons why these signs exist in the first place – some were inherited from Linear B’s parent script Linear A, but many of them seem to have been specially invented within Linear B because they would be particularly useful for the kinds of administrative records that it was used to write. If you want to find out more, you can read the paper! It’s freely available in the Cambridge online repository, and also on my page. Also, abstracts are currently being accepted for the third Understanding Relations Between Scripts conference, ‘Exploring the Social and Cultural Contexts of Historic Writing Systems’ – any interested researchers should check out the CfP here!

Cambridge Aegean Archaeology Group conference


Yet another announcement of an event I’m speaking at…but this time it’s a two-day conference with 30 other people also taking part! The Cambridge Aegean Archaeology Group‘s conference on ‘Connections, Collaborations, and Current Research’ is taking place in the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research on June 14-15. I’ll be speaking about the ways in which Mycenaean scribes edited and changed their texts and what this can tell us about their writing processes – something I’ve blogged a bit about here before – and I’m particularly excited about the two other talks in the epigraphy panel, which are going to be about the processes of preservation affecting the survival (or not) of the Linear B tablets and other Bronze Age documents, and about the use of digital tools for epigraphic research, collaboration, and public engagement. But there are also going to be a huge range of other talks on the themes of ‘Animals and Society’, ‘Cities and Landscapes’, ‘Rethinking Material Culture’, ‘Contextualising Connectivity’, and ‘Bodies and Burials’, plus keynotes on the recent excavations on the island of Keros and connections between monumental burial traditions around the Black Sea region. It should be an excellent couple of days – anyone who’d like to attend (from Cambridge or elsewhere!) can register for free here up until June 1st, and the full programme is here.

Seminar: Learning to spell in Linear B

The palace of Pylos

I’ll be travelling to Exeter next week to give a seminar in the Department of Classics and Ancient History there – the title is “Learning to spell in Linear B: evidence for scribal training in Mycenaean Pylos” and it will be at 3pm on Wednesday May 30th. The abstract is below – I hope to meet any readers from Exeter there!

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Conference announcement: Diversity of Writing Systems

AWLL logo

Last year I wrote about attending a conference in Japan organised by the Association for Written Language and Literacy – I’m now excited to be able to announce that I’m co-organising the AWLL’s next conference, to be held in Cambridge in March 2019 on the theme of ‘Diversity of Writing Systems: Embracing Multiple Perspectives‘. It’s open to researchers working on writing in any academic discipline – not just linguistics, but psychology, education, sociology, archaeology, digital humanities, computer science and technology, and any others I might not have thought of! To give some idea of the range of topics we’re aiming to include, our two keynote speakers are Kathryn Piquette from UCL’s Centre for Digital Humanities, who works on Egyptian and ancient Near Eastern writing and art and on developing and applying digital imaging techniques, and Sonali Nag from the University of Oxford, whose research focuses on literacy acquisition and language development, particularly in South and South-East Asian writing systems and languages.

If you’re a researcher working on any writing system from any perspective, please head over to the conference webpage and check out the call for papers – I’m already looking forward to seeing what a wide range of abstracts we’re (hopefully) going to receive!


Scribal spelling: seminar at the University of Sussex

I’m pleased to say that next week I’ll be giving a paper in the ‘Research on Language and Linguistics at Sussex’ (ROLLS) seminar series, 1pm on Wednesday April 18th. The title is ‘Scribal spelling: studying the orthography of the Linear B writing system’, and here’s my abstract:

This talk will explore different approaches to studying the orthography of the Linear B writing system, used within the Mycenaean palatial administrations of Late Bronze Age Greece (c.1400-1200 BCE), which employs a relatively complex set of orthographic conventions in order to represent the Greek language. I will first discuss attempts to establish a theoretical linguistic basis for these conventions based on syllable structure or the sonority hierarchy, and show that neither of these principles can fully explain Linear B orthography; instead, any explanation of this system’s development must take into account the process by which Linear B was adapted from its parent script, Linear A (used to write an unknown, non-Greek language). I will then discuss the orthographic practices of the scribes working at the palace of Pylos in south-western Greece, focusing on the issue of orthographic variation, and on the evidence this offers for the way in which the scribes may have been trained to write. This talk will therefore demonstrate the variety of ways in which the study of Linear B orthography can contribute to an understanding of the wider context of the writing system’s development and use.

More details about the seminar series in the poster below, or here on the Sussex linguistics blog. If I have any readers at Sussex, then I hope you’ll come along and I look forward to meeting you next week!

ROLLS 2017-2018 Spring copy

Caius Schools Prizes: Language in Lego, and more

LegoMy college, Gonville & Caius, runs a series of annual competitions for Year 12 students in UK schools, and this year’s linguistics competition challenges students to come up with a language based around Lego! As the competition announcement says,


The term ‘language’ can refer to any coherent systematic communication system. Most of the time we encounter language that is spoken or expressed in writing; but language may also be expressed using other mediums — examples would include sign language and Braille. This year the Caius Linguistics Challenge will be to develop a communication system using Lego bricks (or similar) where the meaning of the language will be encoded in how the bricks are connected together.

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