H.P. Lovecraft meets the Bronze Age – Designing Ancient Horror

15129018_10154731385453535_492367329159553307_oI wrote recently about the excellent Lovecraftian board game Eldritch Horror. That post was actually something of a preliminary to this one. You see, for the last several months I’ve been working on my own version of Eldritch Horror, set in the East Mediterranean Bronze Age.

Earlier this year, my friend and colleague Anna Judson called us together to play something else – her excellent Mycenopoly: an Aegean Bronze Age themed version of Monopoly, complete with barter system and utilities such as textile works and the ability to build megara instead of hotels. I highly recommend checking out her own blog about it, which went a bit viral, and deservedly so. Apart from having an excellent time with Mycenopoly, the evening left me wondering if it would be possible to do something similar for the game we most often play together, Eldritch Horror. Continue reading


Film review: Arrival (2016)

I finally made it to the cinema to see Arrival last night, a couple of weeks after it came out to great acclaim. Promising an intelligent take on first contact with an alien species, with particular emphasis on the linguistic business of deciphering the alien language and writing system, it was a film I was very eager to see. I hesitate to call myself a linguist proper just yet, but my current research is very much on the linguistic and writing-systems end of archaeology, and I’m very interested in any film adaptations of ‘grown-up’ written science fiction (Arrival is based on a short story by Ted Chiang), so Arrival looked to be right up my alley.


That said, some of my linguist friends were wary, fearful of how Hollywood would treat their discipline, despite the generally favourable reviews of Arrival’s linguistic content. So in the end, how did it stack up? Was it the masterpiece several reviewers have hailed it as, or was my friends’ caution justified? The answer, it turns out, is somewhere in between. Continue reading

3D Worlds – Exploring Archaeology Digitally

I want to make a confession. I found Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood academically useful.

For those who don’t follow video games, Assassin’s Creed is a more-or-less-annual series of big budget games with primarily historical settings. It provides sandbox cities and sometimes wider landscapes in which the player can explore, engage in parcour-style running and jumping, and undertake missions. The first game was set in mediaeval Palestine and if nothing else is worth checking out just because of how unlikely it was that we would ever get a big budget video game set in the former Phoenician city of Akko. Also, if you like jumping around on crusader castles, it’s likely a big win. Other games in the series have focused on settings as diverse as the American war of independence, the French Revolution or the pirate-filled 18th-century Caribbean. So far so good. It’s certainly nice to see such under-explored settings being used for games. Plot-wise, though, the Assassin’s Creed games are not exactly dissertations in historical accuracy. There’s a Dan Brown-esque nonsense plot involving the Knights Templar, modern-day conspiracies, precursor races of superbeings with the names of Roman deities, some silliness about the hypothetical Mayan apocalypse that the internet reckoned was supposed to happen in 2012 (which they had to drop fairly sharpish in more recent releases), and so on. You get the idea.



The first Assassin’s Creed’s rendition of Akko/Acre

So why did I find Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood genuinely useful in my academic life?

Continue reading

krws and Ugaritic Cuneiform

I’ve written a post over on the CREWS Project blog about the Ugaritic alphabet and how it appears in the project logo.

We’ve talked in the past about the Linear B and Greek alphabetic script in the first two lines of the CREWS logo. Today we’re going to skip ahead and have a look at the last line. This is written in Ugaritic alphabetic cuneiform.

Ugarit was a city on the coast of what’s now northern Syria, not far from the Turkish border. The site was occupied since the Neolithic period, but it’s the Late Bronze Age city of the end of the second millennium BC that we know most about and which has really captured the attention of scholars. In that period, up until its destruction in the early 12th century BC, Ugarit was a major trading hub, involved in commercial and diplomatic networks stretching from the Aegean to Mesopotamia and beyond. When archaeologists began excavating the site in the early 20th century, as well as texts in several…

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Making Ugaritic Tablets 2 -Baking Ancient Script Biscuits

dsc_0014A few weeks ago I wrote about my experiments writing Ugaritic cuneiform in plasticine. I’d had some success with a home-made Lego stylus, but it was a little large. My next step was to get hold of a chopstick with a square cross-section and try that. Unfortunately the stick had slightly rounded corners so the impressions were a little soft. Following the advice on this site, I sanded them to get sharper edges, which yielded improved results.


This week I was finally able to start work on the CREWS Project formally, and in honour of the occasion I wanted to try something a little more adventurous: Ugaritic cuneiform biscuits. This turned out to be an interesting exercise, not just because there were biscuits at the end of it, but because it forced me to think about the materiality of the writing material and how it would react. Continue reading