Form Without Meaning: Researching Undeciphered Ancient Writing
Free Public Lecture
Forum Lecture Theatre, Level 1
2019 Marion Adams Memorial Lecture
How does one actually research an undeciphered script? And what are the prerequisites for a successful decipherment?
Drawing on the ways in which some key ancient scripts have been deciphered in the past, with a focus on Egyptian hieroglyphs and Linear B (the Bronze Age writing-system of the Mycenaean Greeks), Dr Brent Davis will discuss in this lecture several potential ways of studying and analysing an undeciphered script so as to contribute something meaningful to its decipherment.
In this lecture, he will demonstrate the importance of contextual and linguistic approaches to decipherment, and outline the harm that can be done to the study of an undeciphered script through the use of less rigorous approaches. He will also detail several fruitful methods of addressing an undeciphered script, including a new linguistics-based method of his own for determining the probability that two related undeciphered scripts encode the same unknown language.
About the Marion Adams Memorial Lecture
Professor Marion Adams was the first woman to be appointed Dean of the Faculty of Arts, serving from 1988 to 1993. Her election as Dean of Arts in 1988 was a milestone in the history of the University of Melbourne. To honour Professor Adams after her death in 1995, her husband, Mr David Adams established this memorial lecture in her name. These annual lectures are an important means of maintaining links between the University and the community, providing a platform for engagement with contemporary ideas and encouraging public discussion.
Dr Brent Davis, Lecturer in Archaeology and Ancient Egyptian
Dr Brent Davis
Lecturer in Archaeology and Ancient Egyptian
University of Melbourne
Dr Brent Davis received his BA in Linguistics from Stanford University, and his PhD in Archaeology from the University of Melbourne, where he is now a Lecturer in Archaeology and Ancient Egyptian in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies. His dissertation on Linear A, the undeciphered script of the Bronze Age Minoan civilisation on Crete, was published in 2014 (Minoan Stone Vessels with Linear A Inscriptions [Aegaeum 36], Peeters Press); this work has already had a demonstrable impact on the field of Linear A studies. With a background in both archaeology and linguistics, his interests include not only the cultures of the ancient eastern Mediterranean, but their languages and scripts as well. He has published numerous articles and chapters on ancient cultures and scripts, archaeology, and archaeological theory, and he has undertaken archaeological fieldwork in Israel and Greece, including more than a decade of excavation at Telles Safi/Gath (Israel), the site of a major Philistine city. Dr Davis was recently named the 2019 recipient of the University of London’s prestigious Michael Ventris Award for Mycenaean Studies for his work on a new linguisticsbased method of analysing undeciphered Aegean scripts.