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Re-writing the Script: Decoding the Textual Experience in the Bronze Age Levant

Sparks, RTE; (2013) Re-writing the Script: Decoding the Textual Experience in the Bronze Age Levant. In: Piquette, K and Whitehouse, R, (eds.) Writing as Material Practice: Substance, Surface and Medium. (pp. 75-104). Ubiquity Press: London, UK. Green open access

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Abstract

Writing in its many forms was an important part of the political, economic and cultural landscape of the Levant during the Second Millennium BC. Diverse scripts were used to record both local and foreign languages, and included Egyptian hieroglyphics, cursive hieroglyphics, hieratic, cuneiform, alphabetic cuneiform, Proto-Canaanite, Hittite hieroglyphs and linear Aegean scripts. While the corpus is not large, it is significant and hints at the range of writing practices and knowledge available. This paper will review the evidence for Middle and Late Bronze Age writing from a primarily archaeological perspective, showing how a study of object function, materiality and contexts of use can inform on broader questions of textual availability, awareness and execution. Texts played a variety of roles within the communities they served. Texts could act as educational tools; to exert political authority, impress and intimidate; to enhance objects used in funerary or ritual settings, and to mark personal ownership. Across these roles, we can also evaluate more broadly how writing technique, material and script converge, and what the choices that were being made in this respect can tell us about how writing was being organised and managed. This leads to the conclusion that, despite strong script diversity in the region, most forms of script appear to have been used in discrete environments with little overlap between them. Many uses were confined to a professional setting, with scribes operating within local and imposed administrative networks as representatives of the status quo. Beyond this, writing was generally restricted to elite consumers and so had limited impact on society as a whole. The exception lay in more visible forms of writing, such as publically erected stelae, and in special classes of object such as amulets and amuletic objects, such as the scarab, which could be privately owned by a wider group of people. Accessibility, however, did not necessarily equate with understanding, and for the majority, the significance of a text may well have lain in its visual qualities and associations rather than in the actual words recorded. Ultimately it was the more personal and unofficial applications of writing that proved to be the most robust, and it was these that survived to bridge the gap between the end of the Late Bronze Age, and the emergence of a whole new set of polities and writing practices in the Iron II period.

Type: Book chapter
Title: Re-writing the Script: Decoding the Textual Experience in the Bronze Age Levant
ISBN-13: 9781909188242
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.5334/bai
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/bai
Language: English
Additional information: This is an Open Access chapter distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Keywords: Egyptian hieroglyphs, Egyptian hieratic, Hittite hieroglyphs, Proto-Canaanite, cuneiform, Cypro-Minoan, scarabs, inscriptions, texts, writing, scribes, ancient literacy, archaeology, egyptology, Ancient Near East, Levant, Bronze Age
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology > Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1362555
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