I’m pleased to say that a paper I published a couple of years ago, ‘Palaeography, administration, and scribal training: a case-study’ is now freely available to read – you can download a copy via the Cambridge University open access repository (no account or academic affiliation required). In this paper, I presented some of the results from the part of my PhD in which I explored ways of using palaeography – the analysis of different writers’ handwriting – to understand more about the people who wrote the Linear B administrative documents in the Mycenaean Greek palaces of 1400-1200 BCE. I looked at the variation seen in a group of Linear B signs’ forms in texts by writers working in different areas of these palaces and/or on different administrative topics to see if there was any evidence for the widespread assumption that fully-trained writers would have gone on to work alongside their teacher, keeping records on similar areas of the palatial administration — cf. the illustration on the cover of John Chadwick’s The Mycenaean World, showing a scribe and his apprentice working in the ‘Archives Complex’ at Pylos.
I found that (at least as far as my small group of case-study signs suggested) the situation seemed to be a lot more complicated than people normally assume. The relationship between writers’ administrative work – and the working relationships we can reconstruct between them on – and the ways they (were trained to) write is definitely something that needs a lot more research, and that I’ll be returning to in future work. Also, there will be much more detail on this particular study in my forthcoming book – on which more news later in the year!
I recently jumped on the Twitter bandwagon of writing poems in the style of William Carlos Williams, since it was pretty clear to me that the internet could only be improved by having more poems based on Linear B tablets:
This is just to say
I have counted the tripods that were in the storeroom
and which you were probably wanting for the feast
Unfortunately one has only one foot and another is burned off at the legs
I thought now I’d talk a bit more about the actual Linear B tablets which inspired the poem, starting with the famous ‘tripod tablet’ from the palace of Pylos. This tablet famously proved that Linear B had been correctly deciphered as representing an early form of Greek, since the symbols representing different kinds of vessels matched their Greek descriptions: the three-legged vessels were preceded by the Greek word tripodes ‘tripods’, and jars depicted with four, three, and no handles were described as kwetrōwes ‘four-eared’, triōwes ‘three-eared’, and anōwes ‘with no ears’. (You can read more about this, and about the process by which Linear B was deciphered, here).
Once, while working in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, I turned over a Linear B tablet from Pylos to find four deep marks left by the fingers of someone handling the tablet (presumably its maker and/or writer) soon after it was made, while the clay was still wet. For all that my research is all about trying to use the evidence the tablets provide to reconstruct the activities of their writers, I still felt pretty overwhelmed by the fact that I was putting my own (gloved!) hand into fingermarks made by a person who lived more than 3,000 years ago. But ancient hand- and fingerprints can do much more than make us feel a connection to the person who left those marks. There’s a wide range of archaeological research now being done on fingerprints, especially on ceramics, where they can give important information about the identities (particularly the gender) of the people making them — and they also play a part in the study of the Linear B tablets. Continue reading “CSI Knossos: palmprints on the Linear B tablets”
For International Lego Classicists Day (yes, apparently that’s a thing now), a great post from my colleague Pippa Steele with a Lego model of the ‘Archives Complex’ at Pylos! Plus a great discussion of what these two rooms (where most of the Linear B tablets from this palace were found) were actually used for.
Happy International Lego Classicism Day to all our friends and colleagues! In celebration this year, I have been working on something special: a re-imagining of the cover art from John Chadwick’s The Mycenaean World book, in a 3D Lego model. Far from a just-for-fun exercise, this actually has some helpful practical applications in making us question what Mycenaean scribes did at work, and how Linear B archives functioned.
Every so often a news article will make the rounds of the internet – or, for that matter, a paper will be published in an academic journal – presenting a new ‘decipherment’ of an undeciphered ancient writing system. Obviously, such decipherments have taken place in the past – probably most famously that of Egyptian hieroglyphs – and it’s certainly possible that more will take place in the future; but when it comes to the undeciphered writing systems of the Bronze Age Aegean, at least, there’s good reason to be extremely sceptical about any such claims of decipherment. This post is a quick guide to some key facts about the various related writing systems found in Bronze Age Crete and mainland Greece, starting with the one deciphered writing system, Linear B, and then surveying the undeciphered ones roughly in order of how much we know about them, looking very briefly at where and when they’re from, what kinds of documents exist, and how much (if anything) we know about the writing system or the language it represents. Continue reading “A very short introduction to the undeciphered Aegean writing systems”
I’m very pleased to be able to share a podcast I recorded for the Classical Youth Society of Ireland‘s “Conversing the Classics” series, in which I talk to Oscar McHale about the Linear B writing system: what it is, what kinds of text were written in it, and what it can tell us about Greece in the Late Bronze Age, as well as how it was first discovered and deciphered. You can listen/watch here:
I’ve just had a review published by the Bryn Mawr Classical Review of Louis Godart and Anna Sacconi’s Supplemento al corpus di iscrizioni vascolari in lineare B (Supplement to the Corpus of Linear B Inscribed Stirrup Jars) – a collection of drawings, photographs, and transcriptions of all the Linear B inscriptions painted onto so-called stirrup jars (after the shape of the handles) since Anna Sacconi first published her corpus of these inscriptions in 1974.
An epigraphic corpus isn’t, I admit, the most thrilling thing to read cover-to-cover, but it’s vitally important for researchers to be able to access details of these inscriptions without having to trawl through several decades’ worth of archaeological publications, often in fairly obscure places, to track them all down. The ISJs themselves are also a particularly interesting, important, and problematic set of Linear B inscriptions since they’re the only large group of texts written in this script that aren’t written on clay tablets within a palace or other administrative centre – they’re produced all over Crete, probably written by the same people who made and/or painted the pots, and found in various places on Crete and the Greek mainland – not just in palaces, but also in places with no other known use of the Linear B script, and even in tombs. They’re the subject of all sorts of ongoing debates, from what the inscriptions were for (some say they’re marking the jars, and the oil or wine they contained, as gifts being sent from one palace to another; others, myself included, say they were used to keep track of production as part of the same administrative system as the Linear B tablets), to what they mean for levels of literacy in Linear B (to what extent could the people painting these inscriptions read/understand the signs they were painting?) For more information, you can read the review here, and also check out the article I wrote a few years ago about the ISJs, which is freely available here.