Learning to spell in Linear B

Screenshot of Cambridge University Press website for the Cambridge Classical Journal, showing title "Learning to spell in Linear B: orthography and scribal training in Mycenaean Pylos" and beginning of abstract

My article on how Mycenaean scribes at the palace of Pylos learned to spell in the Linear B writing system has now been published in the Cambridge Classical Journal via ‘First View’ – i.e. it’s published online in advance of the print issue which should be out later this year. “Learning to spell in Linear B: orthography and scribal training in Mycenaean Pylos” is freely available to read and download (thanks to my EU Marie-Skłodowska Curie funding which enabled it to be published gold open access), and you can also read my previous blog posts giving some background on Linear B spelling (and how it’s surprisingly similar in some ways to the syllabary used to write the Native American language Cherokee!) and summarising my article. Questions and comments welcome below!

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.

Continue reading “Spelling B: how did Mycenaean scribes learn to spell in Linear B?”

Formatting Bronze Age Tablets

Today’s new issue of ‘Archaeology’ magazine has a short piece based on my recent article on how Linear B scribes edited their documents, called “Formatting Bronze Age Tablets” – you can check it out here! For more on this topic, see also my previous post about the article, which is also available open-access here.

Screenshot of article entitled "Formatting Bronze Age Tablets", by Daniel Weiss, showing large picture of front and back of clay Linear B tablet

Goodbye Cambridge, γεια σου Αθήνα!

Goodbye Cambridge, hello Athens!

I’ve been a postdoctoral Research Fellow at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, for the last four years. As part of this fellowship, I’ve continued the work I began during my PhD, looking at ways to understand more about the remaining ‘undeciphered’ signs of Linear B – the sound-values of fourteen of this writing system’s eighty-seven syllabic signs are still uncertain, nearly 70 years after the script as a whole was deciphered. My monograph based on my thesis, The Undeciphered Signs of Linear B: Interpretation and Scribal Practices, which has just been published with CUP, not only tries to establish as much as is currently possible about the most likely types of sound-value each of these signs may have, but also uses them to explore wider issues about the Linear B writing system’s creation from its parent script Linear A and its use by the Mycenaean scribes to write administrative documents. Other publications arising from my PhD include an article called “The mystery of the Mycenaean labyrinth: the value of Linear B pu2 and related signs”, which looks at one particular sign whose exact sound-value is debated, due largely to its appearance in the word ‘labyrinth’ (da-pu2-ri-to), and the implications its interpretation has for the relationship between Linear B and Linear A, and a book chapter “Processes of script adaptation and creation in Linear B: the evidence of the “extra” signs“, which explores similar issues to do with the initial creation of Linear B but also investigates the script’s ongoing development as the writers who used it created new signs to fit in with the needs of the administrative records they were writing.

Elongated clay tablet with two lines of writing
Linear B tablet recording various kinds of livestock
Continue reading “Goodbye Cambridge, γεια σου Αθήνα!”

Scribes as editors: tracking changes in the Linear B documents

Erasing writing on a clay tablet – for instance, by dragging the flat end of a stylus over the damp clay – leaves traces of this part of the writing process: marks on the clay showing that something has been erased and, if we’re lucky, enough of the original signs that we can read what the writer originally wrote, before they erased and perhaps re-wrote the text. Traces like these in the administrative Linear B texts from Late Bronze Age Greece (c.1400-1200 BCE) are the subject of my latest article, ‘Scribes as editors: tracking changes in the Linear B documents’, which just came out in the American Journal of Archaeology.

Colour photo of lower half of page-shaped clay tablet: 13 lines of text, of which a block of four in the middle have been erased. These lines show horizontal markings across them from erasure; the shapes of many of the erased signs are still visible underneath these markings.
Linear B tablet with four lines of text erased. Underneath the horizontal marks from erasure process, traces of the original signs can still be seen. Photo: PY Jn 725.14-.27, courtesy of the Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati; annotation by author.
Continue reading “Scribes as editors: tracking changes in the Linear B documents”

“The Undeciphered Signs of Linear B: Interpretation and Scribal Practices”: coming soon!

9781108494724_The Undeciphered Signs of Linear B_CoverI’m thrilled to say that my monograph based on my PhD, entitled The Undeciphered Signs of Linear B: Interpretation and Scribal Practices, is due to be published in August by Cambridge University Press. I started my PhD in October 2012, submitted it in April 2016, graduated in January 2017, and have been working (on and off) in turning it into a book ever since then. So this announcement feels like it’s been a very long time coming, but the proofs have gone to the printers and the book is available to pre-order on the CUP website, so I guess it’s really happening!

Continue reading ““The Undeciphered Signs of Linear B: Interpretation and Scribal Practices”: coming soon!”

New Linear B tablets from Pylos

Entrance of the palace of Pylos, with ‘Archives Complex’ to left

I’m pleased to announce the publication of an article I co-wrote with John Bennet of the British School at Athens and Jack L. Davis and Sharon R. Stocker of the University of Cincinnati, publishing two fragments of Linear B tablets discovered during the Cincinnati excavations at Pylos in 2017. The article, published in the journal Kadmos, is available here (with subscription), or you can request a copy of the pre-print via the Cambridge University repository. The two tablets are very fragmentary, but they have some interesting features – including a new example of one of the undeciphered signs I wrote my PhD on, which was pretty exciting for me (though, to manage expectations, it unfortunately doesn’t help make any progress in deciphering it). There’s also a mysterious third object with markings that don’t appear to be Linear B, or indeed any other writing system we can identify, but we’ve included it in case anyone else can come up with any suggestions!

Reference: Anna P. Judson, John Bennet, Jack L. Davis, and Sharon R. Stocker, ‘Two new Linear B tablets and an enigmatic find from Bronze Age Pylos (Palace of Nestor)’, Kadmos 58 (2019), pp.111-123.

New Humanities Commons page for open-access publications

HCommons

I have a new page on Humanities Commons, a free, not-for-profit site for sharing open-access research. Publications available there already include papers on a set of Linear B inscriptions painted on the side of jars used for transporting oil or wine; on the Mycenaean Greek word for “labyrinth”; on the structure and use of the Linear B writing system, and how this can be used to analyse the script’s development over time; on using palaeography (handwriting analysis) to reconstruct aspects of scribal practices and training; and on how Linear B was originally deciphered and shown to represent an early form of the Greek language. Head over to https://hcommons.org/members/annapjudson/ to check them out!

Spelling and script development

wll.22.2.pb_An article of mine has recently appeared in the journal Written Language and Literacy, in a special issue arising from the Association of Written Language and Literacy‘s 2017 conference in Nagoya, Japan. The conference theme was ‘Writing Systems: Past, Present (…and Future?)’, which I took as an opportunity to explore how we can use spelling variation in the Linear B texts to think about the development of the writing system over time – the paper is in some ways an extension of my previous work on the Linear B ‘extra’ signs and what they tell us about the writing system’s creation and use, but also incorporates my more recent research into the writing practices of the scribes at the Mycenaean palace of Pylos, focusing in particular on orthographic variation (full details below).

The issue, which also features papers on Punic (by my colleague Robert Crellin), Korean, Japanese, and the Bornean language Berawan, is available online here for those with a subscription to WLL, or the pre-print version is freely available here.

Continue reading “Spelling and script development”