Making Ancient Tablets 5 – Further stylus improvements

About a year ago I posted a series following my attempts to write Ugaritic cuneiform, first in plasticine and then in clay. I ended up using the square end of a chopstick for a stylus, and this is what I’ve been doing ever since, including in my cuneiform baking. It works, but it’s fiddly – the stick has to be held just right to make the wedge-shaped prints, and it takes practice to stop them being large and clumsy.

Last weekend I took part in a Prehistory and Archaeology Day as part of Cambridge University’s Festival of Ideas. Hosted by Cambridge Archaeological Unit, this offered hundreds of members of the public – mostly children – the chance to try their hands at a wide range of archaeology-related activities, from spear-throwing and archery to excavation and osteology. The ancient writing systems stall was particularly eclectic, with academics from the Faculty of Classics and the Division of Archaeology showing visitors how to write in Akkadian, Ugaritic, Phoenician, Egyptian hieroglyphics, Linear B and alphabetic Greek.

22555287_1640877659320713_1465839174788036077_n Continue reading

Advertisements

Where do Monsters Come From? Tracing the Leviathan from Ugarit to Final Fantasy

Rounding out a busy week for the blog (who would have thought that Aegean stuff in Doctor Who would have been so popular?), I have another article up on Eurogamer. This one’s a bit of a sequel to my one looking at the afterlife of Ba’al and traces the sea monster Leviathan from Ugaritic poem to triple-A video-game.

Leviathan

http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-09-30-where-do-monsters-come-from

A Visual Guide to the Aegean Bronze Age in Doctor Who

Most people probably don’t associate Doctor Who with the Aegean Bronze Age. I mean, why would you? They’ve only done two stories set there and one is entirely missing from the archives. But when you delve a bit more closely, there’s a thread of Bronze Age stuff running through from the very first episode and lasting at least until the end of seventies.

Here’s the TARDIS in the very first episode of Doctor Who, in November 1963. Isn’t it lovely?

doctor_who_original_tardis_console_room_from_first_ever_episode_an_unearthly_child

And that funny-looking chair is a replica of the stone one found in the ‘throne room’ at the Bronze Age palace of Knossos on Crete. Continue reading

Breath of the Wild and telling stories through archaeology

I’ve been planning to write something about the archaeology of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for a while now (ever since my post on cyclical time in Zelda), and recently Eurogamer asked me to write something for their website. So here’s my debut as a freelance games feature writer. Enjoy!

http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-07-27-zelda-breath-of-the-wild-archaeology

Untitled

Ancient Sages and Arcane Texts: The Myth and Magic of the Phoenician Alphabet

When ancient accounts of writing take you to some unexpected places: I’ve written a post over on the CREWS Project blog about how ancient accounts of the origins of the Phoenician writing system link into Hellenistic cultural contacts and the emergence of western esotericism.

Hermes_mercurius_trismegistus_siena_cathedralLet me tell you a story of the forgotten wisdom of the ancients, preserved in secret libraries of elder ages and deciphered by visionary sages, let me tell you about men who became gods and gods who became men. Let me tell you the strange mythology linking the origins of the Phoenician alphabet with the birth of the Western occult tradition.

The origins of writing systems are fascinating, but sometimes it can be just as interesting to lay the reality to one side and look at where the people of the ancient world thought their writing systems came from. My colleague Natalia has been doing this with her series of blog-postslooking at myths about writing. Here, though, I want to look in a bit more depth at the stories told about the development of the Phoenician alphabet.

Because they get a bit weird.

View original post 1,924 more words

Unlocking the Secrets of Karpathia the Keybearer

This week marks 65 years since Michael Ventris announced his decipherment of Linear B, so it seems like a good opportunity to write about something from the tablets that I’ve long been curious about.

py_ep_7041335827682772

The Linear B documents from Mycenaean Greece are notoriously laconic, mostly consisting of accounts and administrative records. Among these, even the slightest glimpse of personal character or hint of drama is enough to make a tablet stand out. My absolute favourite is Ep704, from the palace of Pylos. This tablet is mainly a record of land-allocations to temple personnel at Sphagianes, but the last line throws up some intriguing questions.

Karpathia the Keybearer holds two communal (plots); although she is obliged to work these two, she does not work them.

Continue reading

Under-Appreciated Monsters of the Ancient World #3 – Rabiṣu (The Lurker)

Rabisu_Poster_22x28

Film poster for ‘Resurrection: Rise of the Rabisu’, which I can’t find much information about and definitely doesn’t look rubbish.

For this little-known monster we head out to Bronze Age Mesopotamia. The Rabiṣu appears in a wide assortment of cuneiform texts, but it’s not exactly clear what it is (this amorphousness is pretty characteristic of Mesopotamian demons). Its name seems to come from the verb rabāṣu – to lie down or lurk, and many texts describe it lying in wait to strike unfortunate men who venture across its path, whether it’s hiding in a dark and dank well or has found its way into your own home. Continue reading