Form Without Meaning: Researching Undeciphered Ancient Writing

Free Public Lecture

Form Without Meaning: Researching Undeciphered Ancient Writing

Forum Lecture Theatre, Level 1
Arts West


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T: 83442543

This lecture is now at capacity and no longer taking registrations

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
    Dr Brent Davis, Lecturer in Archaeology and Ancient Egyptian