Monday, 9 November 2020

Writing in the Ancient World

For the last four years, the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge has been home to the CREWS Project (Contexts of and Relations between Early Writing Systems), an ERC-funded research project exploring the scripts and writing practices of the Classical and Near Eastern worlds, how they interconnect and their roles in the societies and cultures that used them. Led by Dr Philippa Steele, the project has always had a strong interest in practical experimentation: we believe that one of the best ways to understand an ancient script is to try and write it, using the materials and techniques of the time. This has seen us trying to find the ideal stylus for inscribing Linear B tablets, experimenting with chopsticks for writing cuneiform, or making our own wax tablets. Not to mention a penchant for ancient writing-themed baking.

Alongside this interest in the materiality of ancient writing, we’ve also always maintained a strong outreach programme. Before this year put a bit of a dampener things, we often spoke to schools groups or ran sessions where children and adults of all ages could try their hands at writing their names in ancient scripts. We were always impressed and delighted by the enthusiasm these garnered, not just for familiar scripts like the Greek alphabet or Egyptian hieroglyphs, but also for the less widely known writing systems of the ancient Mediterranean, like Linear B, the Phoenician alphabet or the alphabetic cuneiform of the Syrian city of Ugarit.

This year, we’ve launched Writing in the Ancient World, a collection of resource packs to help teachers incorporate introduce their pupils to these ancient scripts. Each of the packs includes activities, worksheets and information for both teachers and students, as well as 1-page comics introducing aspects of each script and their worlds. They’re aimed primarily at Key Stage 2 (age 7-11) but should also be useful for older children. The resource packs are supplemented by a number of short YouTube videos where members of the CREWS Project explain how each script works, as well as others covering general thematic discussions or practical advice such as how to run a writing session.


All this material is available for free, thanks to a grant from the University of Cambridge’s School of Arts and Humanities Impact Fund. They can be downloaded direct from the CREWS Blog, or from We’re also very keen to receive feedback, so if you use the resources, we’d really appreciate it if you could let us know how it goes, using the form at the bottom of the resources page

We’ll also be holding a free online certified professional development workshop on 17th November. You can sign up here.

Philip Boyes, CREWS Project (University of Cambridge)