WEEK 1 – MESSAGE & MEDIUM
-Whether on papyrus, bamboo, clay, stone, or wood, writing shows an important relationship between medium and message. Explore the influence media have had on writing’s shape, direction, and use.
-Introduction to the five preconditions or “pillars” necessary for decipherment to be possible, paying particular attention to the first pillar, known as script type. Then we will turn to the typology of the three main categories of signs found across the world (logograms, phonograms, and semantic signs) and consider how these signs are combined in different writing systems.
-Runic Alphabet- Runes are often mistakenly thought to be a semi-magical system of signs used for divination and ritual, but nothing could be further from the truth. Look at the real history of the Runic alphabet—also known as the Fuþark. Explore its possible connection to Ogham.
WEEK 2 –THE ORIGINS & DEVELOPMENT OF WRITING
-Explore three popular beliefs or myths about where writing comes from and how it developed. Investigate the theories of monogenesis versus polygenesis (whether writing was only invented once or independently in locations around the world) and the reasons writing systems are resistant to change.
-Learn about the ancient practice of Turkish tamgas used for marking property and livestock and its use as a writing system.
-Learn about the Vinca signs that may be the oldest proto-European script.
WEEK 3 -A NECESSARY CORPUS
-Consider how epigraphers find a broad, accurate, and readily accessible corpus to examine and why it’s important.
-Walk through methods for recording inscriptions, and contrast early and modern illustrations of the Classic Maya site of Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico, to see the evolution of epigraphic illustration.
-Mayan Glyphs, a new world logo-syllabary. Focus specifically on the hand glyphs of the ancient Mayans and explore the idea of ancient sign-language. Learn about Yuri Knorosov’s decipherment of Mayan hieroglyphic writing and how living in Cold War Russia both helped and hindered his work.
WEEK 3 – THE IMPORTANCE OF LANGUAGE
-Learn how scholars known as philologists or historical linguists use the comparative method of linguistic reconstruction to compare related languages and reconstruct their shared ancestor.
-Turn to the failures of decipherment and the lessons that can be drawn from them by focusing on the attempted decipherment of two scripts (Etruscan & Meroïtic) which recorded languages with no known relatives or descendants.
-Explore Hieroglyphic Luwian, an indigenous logographic script native to central Anatolia.
-Learn about the Luwian and Phoenician bilingual texts emanating from Cilicia (modern-day Turkey.)
WEEK 4 – PROPER NOUNS & CULTURAL CONTEXT
-See how most epigraphers’ efforts begin with the recognition of proper nouns. Then meet the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, and learn how he became the source of much of our information for the cultural context of Old World writing systems.
-Cuneiform Deciphered! Meet Georg Grotefend, a German high school teacher who made an incomparable contribution to the study of ancient writing and civilization. As you investigate the methods he used to decipher Old Persian cuneiform in the Achaemenid texts of Persepolis.
WEEK 5 – BILINGUALS, BISCRIPTS, AND OTHER CONSTRAINTS
-Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt is most celebrated for its discovery of the Rosetta stone, which contains ancient Greek writing, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and demotic script. Consider this icon of decipherment as the first and most famous example of a biscript, and discover just how common such artifacts are around the world.
-Egyptian- the great decipherment! Learn to read hieroglyphs that Champollion’s efforts helped to recover from oblivion. See how you can decipher this blend of phonetic signs, logograms, and semantic signs.
-Learn about the relationship between ancient Egyptian and the modern Coptic language.
WEEK 6 – SUMERIAN AND CHINESE ORACLE BONE SCRIPT
-Learn the story of the decipherment of ancient Sumerian, an early language of ancient Mesopotamia. Delve into a bit of history on this culture’s language and the foundation that was already established for the decipherment.
-Chinese Oracle Bone Script. In continuous use for almost 3,400 years, the Chinese script and its derivatives are used by more than 1.5 billion people around the world. Examine popular myths about Chinese writing as you discover the earliest origins and evolutions of Chinese characters.
WEEK 7 – LINEAR B, LINEAR A, AND THE CRETAN HIEROGLYPHIC SCRIPT
-Learn about Michael Ventris, the man who deciphered Linear B.
-Why are epigraphers still perplexed by many Linear B spellings? Wade into the discovery, decipherment, and contents of this intriguing ancient writing system.
-Meet Linear A, one of two currently undeciphered writing systems used in ancient Greece (the Cretan hieroglyphic script is the other).
WEEK 8 – INDUS SCRIPT, PROTO-ELAMITE, LINEAR ELAMITE, BYBLOS SYLLABARY, SOUTHWEST PALEOHISPANIC SCRIPT, & THE SITOVO INSCRIPTION
-Despite decades of effort by many qualified epigraphers, there are still dozens of undeciphered scripts.
-Meet the writing systems still needing to be deciphered and the challenges faced in deciphering them.