Zagreb, 7 December 2018
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
University of Zagreb
Ivana Lučića 3
A report for the Visiting Scholar Fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin
(16 March – 14 April 2018)
In spring of 2018 (16 March – 14 April) I spent a month at the University of Texas at Austin as a visiting scholar. I was invited by Thomas G. Palaima, Robert M. Armstrong Centennial Professor of Classics, chair of the Department of Classics and the Director of the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory (PASP).
The aim of the Fellowship was to conduct a research at PASP related to my previous work on the pinacology and epigraphy of tablets inscribed in Linear A and Linear B. This research falls within the realm of my comparative study of clay documents in the three Aegean Bronze Age administrative systems (Cretan Hieroglyphic, Linear A and Linear B) that I have been conducting over the past 15 years. Although they are clearly related, these three systems show remarkable differences in the types of employed documents, especially in sealings. The issue has been addressed in my doctoral dissertation Understanding the transition from Linear A to Linear B script, supervised by Prof. John Bennet at the University of Oxford (defended in 2003).
Since the completion of my dissertation I have concentrated on one of the rare document-types that matches in the three administrative systems – the clay tablet. I decided to approach clay tablets as objects themselves and pay full attention to their physical features, and not treat them as secondary to the contents of inscriptions they carry. Clay documents are, after all, archaeological objects and not pure carriers of information, so their materiality should be equally acknowledged. For that reason, I decided to explore how physical aspects of documents influence the type of conveyed information, how/if those physical aspects also shaped the way of thinking of the early administrators, and to what extent physical qualities of documents allowed for specific functions and administrative practices (for most sealing types and some tablets the latter is indeed the case).
The first phase of that research was supported by the 2007 Michael Ventris Memorial Award for a study entitled “Pinacological and epigraphical differences between Linear A and Linear B tablets”, the results of which have been published in a series of papers (as listed in my CV submitted to Prof. Palaima prior to my arrival to Austin). In that study I focused on the comparison of the chronologically closest Linear A and B tablets, i.e. Linear A tablets of the LM IB date and Linear B tablets from Knossos, and showed that they display more differences than similarities. In some instances these differences can be explained as an improvement of scribal practice from Linear A to Linear B, but in most cases they clearly show that Linear A page-shaped tablets served an administrative purpose distinct from those in Linear B. Indeed, the differences are so noticeable that page-shaped tablets from the two administrative systems have little more than their name in common. Such profound differences between the chronologically closest Linear A and Linear B tablets indicate that this document type went through extensive transformations. Differences become even more obvious once we move outside the chronological framework of my focus to date. For example, it is generally understood that the main Linear B pinacological innovation was the introduction of the elongated (or palmleaf-shaped) tablet, which was unknown to the LM IB Linear A administrative system. But we must not forget that the MM II Linear A administration had knowledge of elongated tablets, as did the contemporary Cretan Hieroglyphic system. This obviously means that the clay tablet underwent a transformation even within the Minoan administrative system, that is from MM II examples to those in LM IB. The transformation of the clay tablet within the same administrative system is observable even in Linear B. For example, most elongated tablets are extremely small in the Room of the Chariot Tablets deposit and have a minimal amount of text; they are larger and textually more complex in the other Knossian deposits, but the largest tablets and most extensive texts are found in the Pylian archive.
This expanded comparison of pinacological and epigraphical features of Aegean clay tablets was then a subject of my postdoctoral research in Greece (Alexander S. Onassis Fellowship in 2010). The study not only encompassed those changes observable on tablets of chronologically earlier and later administrative systems, but also changes in chronologically distinct tablets within the same system and results of those comparisons have also been published as individual papers. My research on that topic continues and the final result will be a detailed diachronic study of the Aegean clay tablet from its earliest modest examples in the MM II period on Crete to the latest both complex and numerous examples on the LH IIIB Mainland. This study should improve our understanding of what administrative practices in different places and in different times led to the creation of different types of tablets. The overall aim of this research is to emphasise: 1) that tablets should not be considered secondary to sealings in our studies of similarities and differences between Minoan and Mycenaean administrative systems; 2) that the clay tablet is not a uniform type of document and that its numerous transformations have not yet been properly explored and demonstrated; 3) that recognising these transformations can have a far-reaching impact on still unresolved issues in Aegean studies. This last point refers specifically to disagreements over the date of the Knossian Linear B tablets. I have already mentioned above that the Knossian and the Mainland tablets display some differences, and I would consider it a success if the study proposed here showed that these differences reflect the chronological gap between the two.
My time at Austin was devoted to just mentioned study of similarities and differences between Linear B tablets from Crete and those from the Greek Mainland. A month of a fellowship at the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory provided an unparalleled environment for that research thanks to the archive of excellent photographs of almost all Linear B tablets and the accompanying relevant publications. In addition, during my research at PASP I had an opportunity to examine RTI images of Linear B tablets from Pylos and thus familiarise myself with pinacology and epigraphy of that archive. On several occasions that examination was conducted together with prof. Thomas Palaima and his graduate students. Thus I had a chance to also get a taste of what goes on at PASP on a weekly basis, and my only regret is that I could not enjoy that privilege for a longer period of time. Prof. Palaima and his students have been analysing the mentioned RTI images in a very detailed, lively, insightful and motivating manner. Despite my two decades long dealing with the Aegean scripts, I never had a chance to experience such an enthusiastic and productive teamwork of a professor and students. During such readings of tablets I realised that I always mostly worked alone and that I miss fruitful and inspiring discussions of the sort and sharing the joy of little discoveries which would occur frequently at PASP while reading and interpreting the tablets. Before my departure from Austin I was given copies of the RTI images of Linear B tablets from Pylos which allows me to continue examining them from Croatia. This next stage of my diachronic study of Aegean clay tablets (the comparison of Linear B tablets from Knossos and Pylos) will be presented at the forthcoming Mycenological Colloquium at the British School at Athens in 2020.
In addition to just described study of tablets, a significant portion of my time at PASP was spent on reading the archives of unpublished letters sent mostly to professor Emmett Bennett (I thank Garrett Bruner, the PASP archivist, for sorting out these letters in a such a superb way that navigating through them was easy and efficient). They were extremely useful for getting acquainted with the decipherment efforts of the first half of the 20 th century. Before coming to PASP I had not realized that Emmett Bennett was such a central figure of the Linear A and Linear B “decipherment world”. What I discovered at PASP was that absolutely everyone was writing to Prof. Bennett informing him of his or her work, or asking for advice and guidance. The most precious were the letters written before the decipherment of Linear B in 1952. It was so interesting for me to trace back right and wrong decipherment paths, including those of Michael Ventris himself. Because so many of those attempts at deciphering remained fruitless, the work of numerous scholars was never published, so I only found out about it from those archived letters. Even if fruitless, those efforts are extremely useful for following the logic of decipherment strategy. Being myself a scholar who deals with an undeciphered script (Linear A) I could track in those letters some of my own patterns of thinking, and then analyze why they would be right or wrong. By doing that I realized that I would love to write an article on the historiography of the Linear B decipherment. A month in Austin was not enough to gather all the data for that article, especially because my research time was dominated by the study of tablets. But, should another opportunity present itself for a research visit to PASP, it would definitely be devoted to writing up of such an article. It is not only the letters to Emmett Bennett that would contribute to that, but also many other unpublished notes and other relevant materials that are sitting at PASP shelves, especially the precious notes and notebooks of Alice Kober. While at PASP I also realized that just like Emmett Bennett was the center of the Linear B world during his time, Thomas Palaima is the same center of that world today. He has created an unprecedented research place for the Aegean Scripts in which true unpublished treasures are stored, and not just a library with the most relevant publications. And just like everyone was writing to Emmett Bennett before, all Aegean scholars seem to be writing to Thomas Palaima now – notes and letters of names of almost everyone who has done any work on Linear A and Linear B can be spotted all over PASP.
I would actually like to end this report by saying a few more words about Professor Palaima. He has always been my academic idol, but I was never fortunate to be his student. Having shared for a month the premises of the PASP and having observed his ways of teaching and discussing the Aegean Scripts, I learned why he has always been considered such a superb teacher and not only a superb scholar. He has a talent of creating circumstances in which in a very skilful and spontaneous way he can lead his students through a complex labyrinth of prehistoric scrips (whether deciphered or still undeciphered) and bring them to a proper, self-confident and independent research path. I always knew that Prof. Palaima was highly respected and admired by other fellow scholars and former students. While in Austin I was very much pleased to see that his colleagues and current students share the same attitude. In addition to all his knowledge and expertise, he is an inspiring and charismatic person, so sharing a work and research environment with him for a month was a true scholarly joy. For all those reasons Prof. Palaima’s invitation to Austin and an offer of a visiting fellowship was an exceptional privilege for me and a treasured recognition of my so far work.
In addition to Prof. Palaima, I would also like to thank Joann Gulizio, Kevin Pluta, Garrett Bruner, Cassandra Donnelly and Dimitris Nakassis for their generous help with absolutely everything I needed while working at PASP, and for being so welcoming and accommodating. I would also like to thank Vanessa Noya and Khoa Tran for sorting out all the logistics of my visit. Finally, I would like to thank Prof. Palaima for inviting me to give a guest lecture during my stay.
Professor of Aegean Archaeology and Mycenaean Epigraphy
Department of Archaeology
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
University of Zagreb, Croatia