Letter-Writing: Postage stamps featuring ancient writing systems

I’ve written this for the CREWS blog. Enjoy!

We’re well into December and the postal services are enjoying their busiest time of the year as parcels and cards fly backwards and forwards. What better time to share this little gem I came across during my research.


That’s a 1956 postage stamp from Syria featuring the Ugaritic abecedarium KTU 5.6, well-known to regular readers of this blog. I was curious about it, and a few minutes’ research showed that this wasn’t the only Ugarit-themed stamp Syria has issued.


This one from 1964 isn’t writing-based, but features this famous sculpture of a head, made of ivory and adorned with gold, silver, copper and lapis lazuli. It’s usually assumed to be a statue of a prince or princess, since it was found in the city’s Royal Palace.


This got me wondering what other countries have featured ancient writing-systems on their stamps. Here are some of the ones I found:

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Making Maps for Board Games or Illustrations

One of the comments on my post about my board game, Ancient Horror, asked how I made its board, which features a Mediterranean map. I responded with a short answer there, but I thought it would be worth doing a more in-depth look. I need hardly stress how important maps are in science fiction and especially fantasy, but they’re also very important for archaeologists. I had to draw at least half a dozen for my PhD, showing artefact distributions and other things, and I also redrew one of the maps in a recent new edition of a book by my former supervisor.

In this post I’m going to show you how I tend to go about it.


This isn’t the map for my supervisor. This one’s from The Hobbit.


One of the maps from my PhD thesis

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Making Ancient Tablets 4 – Painting clay to look more like clay

Every time I think I’m done with the clay tablets, I find just one more thing. You can read up on the full story about my experiments with writing ancient tablets at these links:

Part 1 – Ugaritic, plasticine and Lego styli

Part 2 – A better stylus and first attempts at biscuits

Part 3 – Linear A Clay Play Day, Linear A cake and second attempt at biscuits

And for more on the academic component of Clay Play Day and the Linear A seminars, take a look at Anna Judson’s write-up.

Right, on to this instalment, which is unashamedly aesthetic rather than academic. When I ended part 3, my newly-made clay tablets were drying in the CREWS Project office, looking like this:

I’ve been working from home for a while, but over the weekend I finally collected them and saw them for the first time dry. They looked good, but the pristine new air-drying clay had dried very bright, making them look like they were straight out of a brickyard or a primary school art class. They looked a bit stark on my mantelpiece, so I decided to paint them. Continue reading

Making Ancient Tablets 3: More Ancient Baking and Linear A Clay Play Day

I thought I was done for now with making tablets, but this week has turned out to be quite a busy one. This term the linguistics caucus at Cambridge’s Faculty of Classics has been running a Linear A Self-Help Group – sort of a seminar series, but with more baffled shrugging as we struggled to make any sense of the Minoan script. On Wednesday it was the last session of term, which meant two things.

Firstly, it’s traditional that there’s cake, usually decorated with an inscription in the language being studied. I ended up responsible for this this time and went for a chocolate brownie recipe. I decided to decorate it in white chocolate, which was probably a mistake since the window of opportunity for piping the writing between extreme runniness and utter solidity is very narrow. My end result was not as neat as some previous examples, especially those by Cakemeister to the Faculty, Anna Judson, so I did what the Minoans did if in doubt: cover liberally with horns of consecration.


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