I’m about to start a research project into the context of the emergence and use of the Ugaritic writing system in the Late Bronze Age city of Ugarit, on the coast of what’s now Syria. This will be a very interdisciplinary undertaking, blending linguistics, epigraphy, ancient history and archaeology, and is something I’m very excited about. The Ugaritic language and script, though, is not one I currently know (though I do have some experience with Phoenician, which is a related language, but uses a different writing system). What this means is that I have the happy task of learning Ugaritic and its alphabetic cuneiform script (and a bit of Akkadian, just for a bonus).
It quickly became apparent as I practised writing out the cuneiform that it’s slow and cumbersome to have to keep drawing the little triangles on paper and that it would be much more efficient – and authentic – to use a stylus and clay. For my first attempt I used plasticine and a makeshift stylus made out of Lego.
For my first practice, I wrote out the Ugaritic alphabet – effectively creating an example of what’s called an abecedarium. Several examples of these have been found in Ugarit, presumably from scribal schools. My first attempt used the flat, tile-end of the stylus, but wasn’t very satisfactory as the groove around the base of the tile showed up in the impression and created odd signs. I tried again using the opposite end, being careful not to end up with plasticine clogging the inside of the Lego brick.
This worked a lot better, but the Lego is still a bit on the large and unwieldy side. Next step is to find a set of chopsticks with a rectangular cross-section and see how they perform.