This evening, when it’s dark outside, you’re alone in the house, and beginning to wonder just what it is that’s making the mysterious creaking noise somewhere above your head…well, that would be the perfect time to have a read of some Halloween-themed blog posts!
I mentioned this upcoming exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in my last post – I’m very pleased to say that ‘Codebreakers and Groundbreakers‘ is now open (and on until February 2018)! The exhibition brings together two apparently quite different stories – the discovery and decipherment of the Linear B tablets and the breaking of the Enigma codes at Bletchley Park during World War II – to emphasize the two main threads which connect them. Most obviously, both of them are about decipherment and making unreadable texts readable – whether that’s three-thousand-year-old clay tablets written in an undeciphered script and an unknown language, or messages that have been deliberately encrypted to (try to) stop them being read by a wartime enemy.
It’s the beginning of term here in Cambridge, so time for meeting new students, organising teaching for the term, and generally filling up the diary. It also seems like a good time to share various upcoming events that Cambridge-based readers may be interested in, plus a piece of board-game-related news!
On October 21st, the Cambridge Archaeological Unit is hosting a ‘Prehistory and Archaeology Day’ (10.30-4pm, 34 Storey’s Way). There’ll be plenty of different activities to try out, from rock-art-painting to pottery-making – and of course, there’ll be several researchers from Classics and Archaeology there to teach people to write on clay in ancient scripts like Linear B, cuneiform, and Egyptian hieroglyphs! The event is free and there’s no need to book, just drop in — more information here. Continue reading “Start of term news: board games, exhibitions, and playing with clay!”
Speaking of publications that have appeared recently, the PhD thesis I completed last year is now available online! It’s titled ‘The Undeciphered Signs of Linear B’ and is a study of the 14 Linear B syllabic signs (out of 87) whose sound-values are still uncertain. Spoiler alert: by the end of the thesis, they generally aren’t going to be any more undeciphered than they currently are – but (hopefully) I’ve made some progress in understanding how they fit into the script as a whole and their possible values, as well as using them in a case-study to look at how palaeography (the study of the form of script signs, especially as used by different scribes) can be used to talk about wider issues such as how scribes were trained or what the date(s) of the Linear B documents are. Interested readers can find the thesis (plus supplementary catalogues) on the Cambridge University Repository or my Academia.edu page.
Also, as a bonus, check out this excellent article entitled ‘Classicists Name Their Pets‘ (does exactly what it says on the tin, with cute pictures!)
I’m very pleased to announce the publication of a conference held here in Cambridge a couple of years ago on ‘Understanding Relations Between Scripts: The Aegean Writing Systems’. It’s edited by my colleague Pippa Steele, and features chapters on a wide range of topics relating to the writing systems used in prehistoric Crete (Cretan Hieroglyphic, Linear A, and Linear B) and Cyprus (Cypro-Minoan, Cypriot Syllabic). I have a chapter in it looking at various issues to do with the development of the Linear B script; equally importantly, there’s a picture of the conference cake I made!
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!