On Friday 27th October, the GIS hosted two papers that nicely complemented each other in their mutual emphasis on the shortcomings of clear ‘beginnings’ and ‘ends’.
With a paper titled ‘Timing Death: Questioning the chronology of Romano-British tombstone reliefs’, Hanneke Reijnierse-Salisbure kicked off with an overview of some tombstone reliefs, which have usually been examined as part of discussions of cultural contact. Amidst the more recent scholarship that has viewed these images as reflections of a significant transition – the Roman conquest and settlement of Britain, there persists an assumption that there is a further transition that has images moving away from more ‘Romanised’ styles to more genuinely hybrid ones.
To establish any such transition, we need a clear and secure chronology. One of the most frequently used dating criteria is the female hairstyle, which, as Hanneke argued, is much less helpful than scholars have acknowledged. The difficulty of dating these reliefs was restated with regards to further ornaments and adornment.
Her paper concluded with suggesting a different approach to these varied images, namely to view them in ‘context’ and to attempt to explore what their function might have been. The discussion that followed centered on the various problems that dating criteria raise, and on the tombstone reliefs that were found in different parts of the Roman Empire. As became clear, only a handful of these can be securely dated, while the majority of current criteria are rather fluid and imprecise.
The second paper, by Natalia Elvira Astoreca, titled ‘New perspectives on the study of early Greek alphabetic writing’, began with a review of existing views and approaches to the question of early Greek alphabetic writing. Again, the question of beginnings here, as Natalia showed, is profoundly difficult. The origins of the Greek alphabet have been one of the most puzzling and popular questions among philologists and linguists since Kirchhoff published in 1826 his famous study about the Greek alphabet. When did the Greeks borrow the Phoenician script to create their own? Where did this happen and how? These problems remain fundamental, since for many uncovering the intricacies of how Greek writing started means to unveil the origins of Western civilization itself.
In her paper, Natalia reviewed much of earlier scholarship and advanced some interdisciplinary methodologies; these allow us to study the question not only in terms of borrowing of a script, but more importantly to understand writing as a comprehensive phenomenon that involves many other aspects and practices. Natalia, finally, argued for a contextual approach towards the study of the early Greek alphabetic writing, and sketched out some preliminary directions the future studying of this phenomenon might take.