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.
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?
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.
The Festival of Archaeology is a two-week celebration of archaeology in the UK, encouraging people to find out about the archaeology that’s going on in their local area – which seems like a good excuse to share some information about two excavations I’ve been following with particular excitement recently, plus some archaeological cakes!
First up is an excavation I was lucky enough to visit last summer – the Ness of Brodgar on Orkney. This Neolithic site, dating from c.3000-2400 BCE, is basically rewriting the entire archaeology of the Neolithic in the UK – ongoing excavations are revealing a huge complex of monumental buildings, with finds ranging from pottery to slate roof-tiles and even the remains of painted walls.
You may already have seen the headlines about recent archaeological discoveries at Binchester Roman Fort, somewhat over-dramatically being referred to as the “Pompeii of the North” — e.g. this BBC news story. There’s a lot more information about the site and the dig on its website and its blog – for instance, the ring mentioned in the BBC story as being ‘one of the earliest pieces of evidence for Christianity in Britain’ is described in more detail here, and the whole blog is worth a scroll through for more details of the finds and some nice pictures.