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.


While baking the cake I also had a second baking job, because Thursday was the CREWS Project Christmas party and we wanted to have more of the ancient script biscuits that I’d done before and that had prompted a lot of interest in the Project blog. As I mentioned last time, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the recipe I used: the cuneiform wedges didn’t retain their shape too well, and the biscuits were a little salty. This time I eschewed the Hairy Bikers’ speculaas for this recipe from a Dutch site, which I can report worked much better (though admittedly I monkeyed with the spice mix a little to fit what I had in my cupboard, and left out the baking soda).

Biscuit scripts this time included Ugaritic, Linear B, Linear A, Cretan Hieroglyphic, Cypro-Minoan, early Greek, Phoenician and even one tablet in rather shoddy Akkadian (my first effort at writing Akkadian cuneiform, and dough isn’t the most forgiving of media, especially after you’ve been baking for about 4 hours by that point).

The second thing the last Linear A session of term meant was a session of experimental archaeology exploring the materiality of the tablets and the production of the signs – or as many of us ended up calling it, Linear A Clay Play Day. We each got some clay to try and reproduce Linear A tablets, and many of us didn’t stop there. By the end of the session, there was an impressive array of Linear A, Linear B, Cypro-Minoan and more. Here are my own efforts: a Linear A tablet, a Linear B one, an Ugaritic abecedary and a clay ball with my name (possibly) inscribed on it in Cypro-Minoan (Cypro-Minoan isn’t deciphered, but some scholars are bolder than others in suggesting sign values. We used a proposed set of values just for the sake of having something to inscribe).


I also ended up staying late to try my hand at a bit of Akkadian to make up for my poor showing with the biscuit. Here’s the beginning of the Law Code of Hammurabi, up to about midway through the second law (which covers what to do if someone’s accused of black magic. Since it may be of passing interest, the answer is you make him throw himself in a river and if he doesn’t come out the accuser gets his house; if he does come out, the accuser is killed and the defendant gets his house).


Incidentally, when I stay late at my office, exit is through the darkened Museum of Classical Archaeology, which is both very cool and a potential Weeping Angel deathtrap.


As for the CREWS party last night, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and both biscuits and the remains of the cake went down very well. There were also inscribed mince pies (not my doing).


6 thoughts on “Making Ancient Tablets 3: More Ancient Baking and Linear A Clay Play Day

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