A 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.
Cuneiform wedges are small and relatively shallow, so it was important to use a biscuit dough that would not rise too much and would maintain an impression. That set me looking for biscuits that are commonly stamped with detailed designs – chiefly varieties of shortbread. Plain shortbread being a little dull, and paler in colour than your average ancient tablet, I settled instead for a Belgian/Dutch speculoos/speculaas, a spiced Christmassy biscuit, often quite ornately stamped.
The dough took the cuneiform impressions quite well, but not as crisply as the plasticine, and I made a number of Ugaritic abecedaria, as well as biscuits in other scripts being studied by CREWS researchers – Cretan Hieroglyphic, Linear A, Linear B, Phoenician and early Greek.
Unfortunately after baking, the cuneiform impressions softened a lot and were essentially unreadable, but the other scripts worked well – the sharper incisions of a knife remained clearly readable.
All in all, a qualified success, but further experimentation needed, which will, tragically, require the baking and consumption of more cookies. All this will be useful preliminary experimentation for my long-term ancient script cookie ambition: Phaistos Discuits.